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BY  BBRTRAND  RU8SBLL 


INTRODUCTION   TO  MATHEMATICAL  PHILOSOPHY 

THE  ANALYSIS  OF  MIND 

OUR  KNOWLEDGE  OF  THE  EXTERNAL  WORLD 

AN  OUTLINE  OP  PHILOSOPHY 

THE   PHILOSOPHY  OF   LEIBNIZ 

AN   INQUIRY   INTO  MEANING  AND  TRUTH 

POWER 

IN   PRAISE  OF   IDLENESS 
THE  CONQUEST  OF   HAPPINESS 

SCEPTICAL  ESSAYS 

THE  SCIENTIFIC   OUTLOOK 

MYSTICISM   AND   LOGIC 

MARRIAGE   AND    MORALS 

EDUCATION   AND   THE   SOCIAL   OKDLK 

ON   EDUCATION 

FREEDOM   AND  ORGANIZATION,    l8l4~I<M4 
PRINCIPLES   OF   SOCIAL    RECONSTRUCTION 

ROADS  TO   FREEDOM 
JUSTICE    IN    WAR-FIMi: 

FREE   THOUGHT   AND   OFFICIAL   PROPAGANDA 
THE   PROBLEM    OF    CHINA 

With  Scott  NcarinK 

BOLSHEVISM   AND   THE  Wt*T 

With  Dora  Russell 

THE    PROSPECTS   Ol-    INDUSTRIAL   CIVILIZATION 


BERTRAND     RUSSELL 

HISTORY    OF 

WESTERN 
PHILOSOPHY 

and  its  Connection  with  Political 

and  Social  Circumstances  from 

the   Earliest   Times  to 

the    Present    Dav 


GEORGE  ALLEN   AND   UNWIN  LTD 


FIRST  PUBLISHED   IN    1446 
SFCOND    IMPRESSION    1947 

All  rights  resented 


1'RINTI.D    IV    URI-AT    BKMAIS 
iff  n-/'</tnf  Imprint  Type 

\\\    UN  WIN     bHOJHfcHS    J, »  M  m  U 


PREFACE 

A  FEW  words  of  apology  and  explanation  are  called  for  if 
this  book  is  to  escape  even  more  severe  censure  than  it 
doubtless  deserves. 

Apology  is  due  to  the  specialists  on  various  schools  and  indi- 
vidual philosophers.  With  the  possible  exception  of  Leibniz, 
every  philosopher  of  whom  I  treat  is  better  known  to  some  others 
than  to  me.  If,  however,  books  covering  a  Wide  field  are  to  be 
written  at  all,  it  is  inevitable,  since  we  are  not  immortal,  that  those 
who  write  such  books  should  spend  less  time  on  any  one  part 
than  can  be  spent  by  a  man  who  concentrates  on  a  single  author 
or  a  brief  period.  Some,  whose  scholarly  austerity  is  unbending, 
will  conclude  that  books  covering  a  wide  field  should  not  be 
written  at  all,  or,  if  written,  should  consist  of  monographs  by  a 
multitude  of  authors.  There  is,  however,  something  lost  when 
many  authors  co-operate.  If  there  is  any  unity  in  the  movement 
of  history,  if  there  is  any  intimate  relation  between  what  goes 
before  and  what  comes  later,  it  is  necessary,  for  setting  this  forth, 
that  earlier  and  later  periods  should  be  synthesized  in  a  single 
mind.  The  student  of  Rousseau  may  have  difficulty  in  doing 
justice  to  his  connection  with  the  Sparta  of  Plato  and  Plutarch; 
the  historian  of  Sparta  may  not  be  prophetically  conscious  of 
Hobbcs  and  Fichte  and  Lenin.  To  bring  out  such  relations  is 
one  of  the  purposes  of  this  book,  and  it  is  a  purpose  which  only 
a  wide  survey  can  fulfil. 

There  are  many  histories  of  philosophy,  but  none  of  them,  so 
far  as  I  know,  has  quite  the  purpose  that  I  have  set  myself.  Philo- 
sophers are  both  effects  and  causes:  effects  of  their  social  cir- 
cumstances and  of  the  politics  and  institutions  of  their  time; 
causes  (if  they  are  fortunate)  of  beliefs  which  mould  the  politics 
and  institutions  of  later  ages.  In  most  histories  of  philosophy, 
each  philosopher  appears  as  in  a  vacuum;  his  opinions  are  set 
forth  unrelated  except,  at  most,  to  those  of  earlier  philosophers. 
I  have  tried,  on  the  contrary,  to  exhibit  each  philosopher,  as  far 
as  truth  permits,  as  an  outcome  of  his  milieu,  a  man  in  whom 
were  crystallized  and  concentrated  thoughts  and  feelings  which, 
in  a  vague  ahd  diffused  form,  were  common  to  the  community 
of  which  he  was  a  part. 

5 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL    THOUGHT 

This  has  required  the  insertion  of  certain  chapters  of  purely 
social  history.  No  one  can  understand  the  Stoics  and  Epicureans 
without  some  knowledge  of  the  Hellenistic  age,  or  the  scholastics 
without  a  modicum  of  understanding  of  the  growth  of  the  Church 
from  the  fifth  to  'the  thirteenth  centuries.  I  have  therefore  set 
forth  briefly  those  parts  of  the  main  historical  outlines  that  seemed 
to  me  to  have  had  most  influence  on  philosophical  thought,  and 
I  have  done  this  with  most  fulness  where  the  history  may  be 
expected  to  be  unfamiliar  to  some  readers — for  example,  in  regard 
to  the  early  Middle  Ages.  But  in  these  historical  chapters  I  have 
rigidly  excluded  whatever  seemed  to  have  little  or  no  bearing  on 
contemporary  or  subsequent  philosophy. 

The  problem  of  selection,  in  such  a  book  as  the  present,  is 
very  difficult.  Without  detail,  a  book  becomes  jejune  and  un- 
interesting; with  detail,  it  is  in  danger  of  becoming  intolerably 
lengthy.  I  have  sought  a  compromise,  by  treating  only  those 
philosophers  who  seem  to  me  to  have  considerable  importance, 
and  mentioning,  in  connection  with  them,  such  details  as,  even 
if  not  of  fundamental  importance,  have  value  on  account  of  some 
iDustrative  or  vivifying  quality. 

Philosophy,  from  the  earliest  times,  has  been  not  merely  an 
affair  of  the  schools,  or  of  disputation  between  a  handful  of 
learned  men.  It  has  been  an  integral  part  of  the  life  of  the  com- 
munity, and  as  such  I  have  tried  to  consider  it.  If  there  is  any 
merit  in  this  book,  it  is  from  this  point  of  view  that  it  is  derived. 

This  book  owes  its  existence  to  Dr.  Albert  C.  Barnes,  having 
been  originally  designed  and  partly  delivered  as  lectures  at  the 
Barnes  Foundation  in  Pennsylvania. 

As  in  most  of  my  work  during  the  years  since  1932,  I  have 
been  greatly  assisted  in  research  and  in  many  other  ways  by  my 
wife,  Patricia  Russell. 


CONTENTS 


CHAPTER 


1 

II 
III 

IV 

V 

VI 

VII 

VIII 

IX 

X 


XI 

XII 

XIII 

XIV 

XV 

XVI 

XVII 

XVIII 

XIX 

XX 

XXI 

XXII 

XXIII 

XXIV 


XXV 
XXVI 

XXVII 

txvm 

XXIX 
XXX 


Introduction 

BOOK   ONE 

ANCIENT   PHILOSOPHY 

Part  i 
The   Pre-Socratics 

The  Rise  of  Greek  Civilization 

The  Milesian  School 

Pythagoras 

Heraclitus 

Pannenides 

Empedocles 

Athens  in  Relation  to  Culture 

Anaxagoras 

The  Atornists 

Protagoras 

Part  2 

Socrates,  Plato,  and  Aristotle 
Socrates 

The  Influence  of  Sparta 
The  Sources  of  Plato's  Opinions 
Plato's  Utopia 
The  Theory  of  Ideas 
Plato's  Theory  of  Immortality 
Plato's  Cosmogony 
Knowledge  and  Perception  in  Plato 
Aristotle's  Metaphysics 
Aristotle's  Ethics 
Aristotle's  Politics 
Aristotle's  Logic 
Aristotle's  Physics 
Early  Greek  Mathematics  and  Astronomy 

Part  3 
Ancient  Philosophy  after  Aristotle 

The  Hellenistic  World 

Cynics  and  Sceptics 

The  Epicureans 

Stoitism 

The  Roman  Empire  in  Relation  to  Culture 

Plotinua 


PAGE 
10 


21 

8 

57 
6? 
72 

77 
81 

84 
94 


i  oz 


129 
141 

'54 

165 

171 
182 

'95 
207 
218 
226 
231 


241 
252 
263 

*75 
294 
308 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL    THOUGHT 

CHAPTER  PAGE 

BOOK     TWO 

CATHOLIC    PHILOSOPHY 

Introduction  322 
Part  i 

The  Fathers 

I    The  Religious  Development  of  the  Jews  328 

II    Christianity  During  the  First  Four  Centuries  344 

III  Three  Doctors  of  the  Church  354 

IV  St.  Augustine's  Philosophy  and  Theology  372 
V    The  Fifth  and  Sixth  Centuries                '  386 

VI     St.  Benedict  and  Gregory  the  Great  395 

Part  2 
The  Schoolmen 

VII     The  Papacy  in  the  Dark  Apes  408 

VIII     John  the  Scot  421 

IX     Ecclesiastical  Reform  in  the  Eleventh  Ccntuiv  428 

X     Mohammedan  Culture  and  Philosophy  440 

XI     The  Twelfth  Century  '  450 

XII     The  Thirteenth  Century  4^3 

XIII  St.  Thomas  Aquinas  474 

XIV  Franciscan  Schoolmen  48'* 
XV     The  Eclipse  of  the  Papacy  499 


BOOK     TIIRFh 

MODERN     PHILOSOPHY 

Part  i 
/'Vow  the  Renaissance  tu  Hume 

I     General  Characteristics  51 1 

11     The  Italian  Renaissance  ^i(> 

III  Machiavelli  525 

IV  Erasmus  and  More  533 
V    The  Reformation  and  Counter-Reformation  544 

VI    The  Rise  of  Science  547 

VII     Francis  Bacon  563 

VIII     Hobbca's  Leviathan  568 

IX    Descartes  580 

X    Spinoza  592 

XI    Leibniz  604 

b 


CONTENTS 

CHAPTER  PAGB 

XII  Philosophical  Liberalism  620 

XIII  Locke's  Theory  of  Knowledge  628 

XIV  Locke's  Political  Philosophy  642 
XV  Locke's  Influence  666 

XVI  Berkeley  673 

XVII  Hume  685 

Part  2 
From  Rousseau  to  the  Present  Day 

XVIII  The  Romantic  Movement  701 

XIX  Rousseau  711 

XX  Kant  728 

XXI  Currents  of  Thought  in  the  Nineteenth  Century  746 

XXII  Hegel  757 

XXIII  Byron  774 

XXIV  Schopenhauer  781 
XXV  Nietzsche  788 

XXVI  The  Utilitarians  801 

XXVII  Karl  Marx  810 

XXVIII  Bergson  819 

XXIX  William  James  839 

XXX  JohnDewey  847 

XXXI  The  Philosophy  of  Logical  Analysis  857 


INTRODUCTION 

E  I    \HE   conceptions   of  life  and   the   world   which   we    call 

I     "philosophical"  are  a  product  of  two  factors:  one,  inherited 

JL    religious  and  ethical  conceptions;  the  other,  the  sort  of 

investigation  which  may  be  called  "scientific,"  using  this  word  in 

its  broadest  sense.  Individual  philosophers  have  differed  widely 

in  regard  to  the  proportions  in  which  these  two  factors  entered 

into  their  systems,  but  it  is  the  presence  of  both,  in  some  degree, 

that  characterizes  philosophy. 

"Philosophy"  is  a  word  which  has  been  used  in  many  ways, 
some  wider,  some  narrower.  I  propose  to  use  it  in  a  very  wide 
sense,  which  I  will  now  try  to  explain. 

Philosophy,  as  I  shall  understand  the  word,  is  something  inter- 
mediate between  theology  and  science.  Like  theology,  it  consists 
of  speculations  on  matters  as  to  which  definite  knowledge  has,  so 
far,  been  unascertainable ;  but  like  science,  it  appeals  to  human 
reason  rather  than  to  authority,  whether  that  of  tradition  or  that 
of  revelation.  All  definite  knowledge — so  I  should  contend — 
belongs  to  science ;  all  dogma  as  to  what  surpasses  definite  know- 
ledge belongs  to  theology.  But  between  theology  and  science  there 
is  a  No  Man's  Land,  exposed  to  attack  from  both  sides;  this  No 
Man's  Land  is  philosophy.  Almost  all  the  questions  of  most 
interest  to  speculative  minds  are  such  as  science  cannot  answer, 
and  the  confident  answers  of  theologians  no  longer  seem  so  con- 
vincing as  they  did  in  former  centuries.  Is  the  world  divided  into 
mind  and  matter,  and,  if  so,  what  is  mind  and  what  is  matter?  Is 
mind  subject  to  matter,  or  is  it  possessed  of  independent  powers  ? 
Has  the  universe  any  unity  or  purpose?  Is  it  evolving  towards 
some  goal  ?  Are  there  really  laws  of  nature,  or  do  we  believe  in 
them  only  because  of  our  innate  love  of  order  ?  Is  man  what  he 
seems  to  the  astronomer,  a  tiny  lump  of  impure  carbon  and  water 
impotently  crawling  on  a  small  and  unimportant  planet  ?  Or  is  he 
what  he  appears  to  Hamlet  ?  Is  he  perhaps  both  at  once  ?  Is  there 
a  way  of  living  that  is  noble  and  another  that  is  base,  or  are  all 
ways  of  living  merely  futile?  If  there  is  a  way  of  living  that  is 
noble,  in  what  does  it  consist,  and  how  shall  we  achieve  it?  Must 
the  good  be  eternal  in  order  to  deserve  to  be  valuc'd,  or  is  it  worth 
seeking  even  if  the  universe  is  inexorably  moving  toward?  death  ? 

10 


INTRODUCTION 

Is  there  such  a  thing  as  wisdom,  or  is  what  seems  such  merely 
the  ultimate  refinement  of  folly?  To  such  questions  no  answer 
can  be  found  in  the  laboratory.  Theologies  have  professed  to  give 
answers,  all  too  definite;  but  their  very  definiteness  causes  modern 
minds  to  view  them  with  suspicion.  The  studying  of  these 
questions,  if  not  the  answering  of  them,  is  the  business  of 
philosophy. 

Why,  then,  you  may  ask,  waste  time  on  such  insoluble  problems  ? 
To  this  one  may  answer  as  a  historian,  or  as  an  individual  facing 
the  terror  of  cosmic  loneliness. 

The  answer  of  the  historian,  in  so  far  as  I  am  capable  of  giving 
it,  will  appear  in  the  course  of  this  work.  Ever  since  men  became 
capable  of  free  speculation,  their  actions,  in  innumerable  impor- 
tant respects,  have  depended  upon  their  theories  as  to  the  world 
and  human  life,  as  to  what  is  good  and  what  is  evil.  This  is  as 
true  in  the  present  day  as  at  any  former  time.  To  understand  an 
age  or  a  nation,  we  must  understand  its  philosophy,  and  to  under- 
stand its  philosophy  we  must  ourselves  be  in  some  degree  philo- 
sophers. There  is  here  a  reciprocal  causation:  the  circumstances 
of  men's  lives  do  much  to  determine  their  philosophy,  but,  con- 
versely, their  philosophy  does  much  to  determine  their  circum- 
stances. This  interaction  throughout  the  centuries  will  be  the 
topic  of  the  following  pages. 

There  is  also,  however,  a  more  personal  answer.  Science  tells 
us  what  we  can  know,  but  what  we  can  know  is  little,  and  if  we 
forget  how  much  we  cannot  know  we  become  insensitive  to  many 
things  of  very  great  importance.  Theology,  on  the  other  hand, 
induces  a  dogmatic  belief  that  we  have  knowledge  where  in  fact 
we  have  ignorance,  and  by  doing  so  generates  a  kind  of  impertinent 
insolence  towards  the  universe.  Uncertainty,  in  the  presence  of 
vivid  hopes  and  fears,  is  painful,  but  must  be  endured  if  we  wish 
to  live  without  the  support  of  comforting  fairy  tales.  It  is  not 
good  either  to  forget  the  questions  that  philosophy  asks,  or  to 
persuade  ourselves  that  we  have  found  indubitable  answers  to 
them.  To  teach  how  to  live  without  certainty,  and  yet  without 
being  paralysed  by  hesitation,  is  perhaps  the  chief  thing  that 
philosophy,  in  our  age,  can  still  do  for  those  who  study  it. 

Philosophy^  as  distinct  from  theology,  began  in  Greece  in  the 
sixth  century  B.C.  After  running  its  course  in  antiquity,  it  was 
again  submerged  by  theology  as  Christianity  rose  and  Rome  fell. 

xx 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL    THOUGHT 

Its  second  great  period,  from  the  eleventh  to  the  fourteenth  cen- 
turies, was  dominated  by  the  Catholic  Church,  except  for  a  few 
great  rebels,  such  as  the  Emperor  Frederick  II  (1195-1250).  This 
period  was  brought  to  an  end  by  the  confusions  that  culminated 
in  the  Reformation.  The  third  period,  from  the  seventeenth 
century  to  the  present  day,  is  dominated,  more  than  either  of  its 
predecessors,  by  science;  traditional  religious  beliefs  remain 
important,  but  are  felt  to  need  justification,  and  are  modified 
wherever  science  seems  to  make  this  imperative.  Few  of  the 
philosophers  of  this  period  are  orthodox  from  a  Catholic  stand- 
point, and  the  secular  State  is  more  important  in  their  speculations 
than  the  Church. 

Social  cohesion  and  individual  liberty,  like  religion  and  science, 
are  in  a  state  of  conflict  or  uneasy  compromise  throughout  the 
whole  period.  In  Greece,  social  cohesion  was  secured  by  loyalty 
to  the  City  State;  even  Aristotle,  though  in  his  time  Alexander 
was  making  the  City  State  obsolete,  could  see  no  merit  in  any 
other  kind  of  polity.  The  degree  to  which  the  individual's  liberty 
was  curtailed  by  his  duty  to  the  City  varied  widely.  In  Sparta  he 
had  as  little  liberty  as  in  modern  Germany  or  Russia;  in  Athens, 
in  spite  of  occasional  persecutions,  citizens  had,  in  the  best  period, 
a  very  extraordinary  freedom  from  restrictions  imposed  by  the 
State.  Greek  thought  down  to  Aristotle  is  dominated  by  religious 
and  patriotic  devotion  to  the  City ;  its  ethical  systems  arc  adapted 
to  the  lives  of  citizens  and  have  a  large  political  element.  When 
the  Greeks  became  subject,  first  to  the  Macedonians,  and  then  to 
the  Romans,  the  conceptions  appropriate  to  their  days  of  inde- 
pendence were  no  longer  applicable.  This  produced,  on  the  one 
hand,  a  loss  of  vigour  through  the  breach  with  tradition,  and,  on 
the  other  hand,  a  more  individual  and  less  social  ethic.  The 
Stoics  thought  of  the  virtuous  life  as  a  relation  of  the  soul  to 
God,  rather  than  as  a  relation  of  the  citizen  to  the  State.  They 
thus  prepared  the  way  for  Christianity,  which,  like  Stoicism,  was 
originally  unpolitical,  since,  during  its  first  three  centuries,  its 
adherents  were  devoid  of  influence  on  government.  Social  cohesion, 
during  the  six  and  a  half  centuries  from  Alexander  to  Constantine, 
was  secured,  not  by  philosophy  and  not  by  ancient  loyalties,  but 
by  force,  first  that  of  armies  and  then  that  of  civil  administration. 
Roman  armies,  Roman  roads,  Roman  law,  and  ifoman  officials 
first  created  and  then  preserved  a  powerful  centralized.  State. 

12 


INTRODUCTION 

Nothing  was  attributable  to  Roman  philosophy,  since  there  was 
none. 

During  this  long  period,  the  Greek  ideas  inherited  from  the  age 
of  freedom  underwent  a  gradual  process  of  transformation.  Some 
of  the  old  ideas,  notably  those  which  we  should  regard  as  speci- 
fically religious,  gained  in  relative  importance;  others,  more 
rationalistic,  were  discarded  because  they  no  longer  suited  the 
spirit  of  the  age.  In  this  way  the  later  pagans  trimmed  the  Greek 
tradition  until  it  became  suitable  for  incorporation  in  Christian 
doctrine. 

Christianity  popularized  an  important  opinion,  already  implicit 
in  the  teaching  of  the  Stoics,  but  foreign  to  the  general  spirit  of 
antiquity — I  mean,  the  opinion  that  a  man's  duty  to  God  is  more 
imperative  than  his  duty  to  the  State.1  This  opinion — that  "we 
ought  to  obey  God  rather  than  Man/'  as  Socrates  and  the  Apostles 
said — survived  the  conversion  of  Constantine,  because  the  early 
Christian  emperors  were  Arians  or  inclined  to  Arianism.  When 
the  emperors  became  orthodox,  it  fell  into  abeyance.  In  the 
Byzantine  Empire  it  remained  latent,  as  also  in  the  subsequent 
Russian  Empire,  which  derived  its  Christianity  from  Constan- 
tinople.2 But  in  the  West,  where  the  Catholic  emperors  were 
almost  immediately  replaced  (except  in  parts  of  Gaul)  by  heretical 
barbarian  conquerors,  the  superiority  of  religious  to  political 
allegiance  survived,  and  to  some  extent  still  survives. 

The  barbarian  invasion  put  an  end,  for  six  centuries,  to  the 
civilization  of  western  Europe.  It  lingered  in  Ireland  until  the 
Danes  destroyed  it  in  the  ninth  century;  before  its  extinction 
there  it  produced  one  notable  figure,  Scotus  Erigena.  In  the 
Eastern  Empire,  Greek  civilization,  in  a  desiccated  form,  survived, 
as  in  a  museum,  till  the  fall  of  Constantinople  in  1453,  but  nothing 
of  importance  to  the  world  came  out  of  Constantinople  except  an 
artistic  tradition  and  Justinian's  Codes  of  Roman  law. 

During  the  period  of  darkness,  from  the  end  of  the  fifth  century 
to  the  middle  of  the  eleventh,  the  western  Roman  world  under- 
went some  very  interesting  changes.  The  conflict  between  duty  to 

1  This  opinion  was  not  unknown  in  earlier  times:  it  is  stated,  for 
example,  in  the  Antigone  of  Sophocles.  But  before  the  Stoics  those  who 
held  it  were  fei%. 

*  That  is  why  the  modem  Russian  does  not  think  that  we  ought  to 
obey  dialectical  materialism  rather  than  Stalin. 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

God  and  duty  to  the  State,  which  Christianity  had  introduced, 
took  the  form  of  a  conflict  between  Church  and  king.  The  eccle- 
siastical jurisdiction  of  the  Pope  extended  over  Italy,  France,  and 
Spain,  Great  Britain  and  Ireland,  Germany,  Scandinavia,  and 
Poland.  At  first,  outside  Italy  and  southern  France,  his  control 
over  bishops  and  abbots  was  very  slight,  but  from  the  time  of 
Gregory  VII  (late  eleventh  century)  it  became  real  and  effective. 
From  that  time  on,  the  clergy,  throughout  western  Europe, 
formed  a  single  organization  directed  from  Rome,  seeking  power 
intelligently  and  relentlessly,  and  usually  victorious,  until  after  the 
year  1300,  in  their  conflicts  with  secular  rulers.  The  conflict 
between  Church  and  State  was  not  only  a  conflict  between  clergy 
and  laity ;  it  was  also  a  renewal  of  the  conflict  between  the  Mediter- 
ranean world  and  the  northern  barbarians.  The  unity  of  the 
Church  echoed  the  unity  of  the  Roman  Empire ;  its  liturgy  was 
Latin,  and  its  dominant  men  were  mostly  Italian,  Spanish,  or 
southern  French.  Their  education,  when  education  revived,  was 
classical;  their  conceptions  of  law  and  government  would  have 
been  more  intelligible  to  Marcus  Aurelius  than  they  were  to 
contemporary  monarchs.  The  Church  represented  at  once 
continuity  with  the  past  and  what  was  most  civilized  in  the 
present. 

The  secular  power,  on  the  contrary,  was  in  the  hands  of  kings 
and  barons  of  Teutonic  descent,  who  endeavoured  to  preserve 
what  they  could  of  the  institutions  that  they  had  brought  out  of 
the  forests  of  Germany.  Absolute  power  was  alien  to  those  institu- 
tions, and  so  was  what  appeared  to  these  vigorous  conquerors  as 
a  dull  and  spiritless  legality.  The  king  had  to  share  his  power 
with  the  feudal  aristocracy,  but  all  alike  expected  to  be  allowed 
occasional  outbursts  of  passion  in  the  form  of  war,  murder,  pillage, 
or  rape.  Monarchs  might  repent,  for  they  were  sincerely  pious, 
and,  after  all,  repentance  was  itself  a  form  of  passion.  But  the 
Church  could  never  produce  in  them  the  quiet  regularity  of  good 
behaviour  which  a'modern  employer  demands,  and  usually  obtains, 
of  his  employees.  What  was  the  use  of  conquering  the  world  if 
they  could  not  drink  and  murder  and  love  as  the  spirit  moved 
them?  And  why  should  they,  with  their  armies  of  proud  knights, 
submit  to  the  orders  of  bookish  men,  vowed  to  celibacy  and 
destitute  of  armed  force?  In  spite  of  ecclesiastic^  disapproval, 
they  preserved  the  duel  and  trial  by  battle,  and  they  developed 


INTRODUCTION 

tournaments  and  courtly  love.  Occasionally,  in  a  fit  of  rage,  they 
would  even  murder  eminent  churchmen. 

All  the  armed  force  was  on  the  side  of  the  kings,  and  yet  the 
Church  was  victorious.  The  Church  won,  partly  because  it  had 
almost  a  monopoly  of  education,  partly  because  the  kings  were 
perpetually  at  war  with  each  other,  but  mainly  because,  with  very 
few  exceptions,  rulers  and  people  alike  profoundly  believed  that 
the  Church  possessed  the  power  of  the  keys.  The  Church  could 
decide  whether  a  king  should  spend  eternity  in  heaven  or  in  hell ; 
the  Church  could  absolve  subjects  from  the  duty  of  allegiance, 
and  so  stimulate  rebellion.  The  Church,  moreover,  represented 
order  in  place  of  anarchy,  and  consequently  won  the  support  of 
the  rising  mercantile  class.  In  Italy,  especially,  this  last  con- 
sideration was  decisive. 

The  Teutonic  attempt  to  preserve  at  least  a  partial  independence 
of  the  Church  expressed  itself  not  only  in  politics,  but  also  in 
art,  romance,  chivalry,  and  war.  It  expressed  itself  very  little  in 
the  intellectual  world,  because  education  was  almost  wholly  con- 
fined to  the  clergy.  The  explicit  philosophy  of  the  Middle  Ages 
is  not  an  accurate  mirror  of  the  times,  but  only  of  what  was 
thought  by  one  party.  Among  ecclesiastics,  however— especially 
among  the  Franciscan  friars — a  certain  number,  for  various 
reasons,  were  at  variance  with  the  Pope.  In  Italy,  moreover, 
culture  spread  to  the  laity  some  centuries  sooner  than  it  did 
north  of  the  Alps.  Frederick  II,  who  tried  to  found  a  new  religion, 
represents  the  extreme  of  anti-papal  culture;  Thomas  Aquinas, 
who  was  born  in  the  kingdom  of  Naples  where  Frederick  II  was 
supreme,  remains  to  this  day  the  classic  exponent  of  papal  philo- 
sophy. Dante,  some  fifty  years  later,  achieved  a  synthesis,  and 
gave  the  only  balanced  exposition  of  the  complete  medieval  world 
of  ideas. 

After  Dante,  both  for  political  and  for  intellectual  reasons,  the 
medieval  philosophical  synthesis  broke  down.  It  had,  while  it 
lasted,  a  quality  of  tidiness  and  miniature  completeness;  whatever 
the  system  took  account  of  was  placed  with  precision  with  relation 
to  the  other  contents  of  its  very  finite  cosmos.  But  the  Great 
Schism,  die  conciliar  movement,  and  the  Renaissance  papacy  led 
up  to  the  Reformation,  which  destroyed  the  unity  of  Christendom 
and  the  scholastic  theory  of  government  that  centred  round  the 

Pope.  In  the  Renaissance  period  new  knowledge,  both  of  antiquity 

• 

15 


WESTERN   PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

and  of  the  earth's  surface,  made  men  tired  of  systems,  which  were 
felt  to  be  mental  prisons.  The  Copernican  astronomy  assigned  to 
the  earth  and  to  man  a  humbler  position  than  they  had  enjoyed 
in  the  Ptolemaic  theory.  Pleasure  in  new  facts  took  the  place, 
among  intelligent  men,  of  pleasure  in  reasoning,  analysing,  and 
systematizing.  Although  in  art  the  Renaissance  is  still  orderly,  in 
thought  it  prefers  a  large  and  fruitful  disorder.  In  this  respect, 
Montaigne  is  the  most  typical  exponent  of  the  age. 

In  the  theory  of  politics,  as  in  everything  except  art,  there  was 
a  collapse  of  order.  The  Middle  Ages,  though  turbulent  in  prac- 
tice, were  dominated  in  thought  by  a  passion  for  legality  and  by 
a  very  precise  theory  of  political  power.  All  power  is  ultimately 
from  God ;  He  has  delegated  power  to  the  Pope  in  sacred  things 
and  to  the  Emperor  in  secular  matters.  But  Pope  and  Emperor 
alike  lost  their  importance  during  the  fifteenth  century.  The  Pope 
became  merely  one  of  the  Italian  princes,  engaged  in  the  incredibly 
complicated  and  unscrupulous  game  of  Italian  power  politics. 
The  new  national  monarchies  in  France,  Spain,  and  England  had, 
in  their  own  territories,  a  power  with  which  neither  Pope  nor 
Emperor  could  interfere.  The  national  State,  largely  owing  to 
gunpowder,  acquired  an  influence  over  men's  thoughts  and  feelings 
which  it  had  not  had  before,  and  which  progressively  destroyed 
what  remained  of  the  Roman  belief  in  the  unity  of  civilization. 

This  political  disorder  found  expression  in  Machiavelli's  Prince. 
In  the  absence  of  any  guiding  principle,  politics  becomes  a  naked 
struggle  for  power;  The  Prince  gives  shrewd  advice  as  to  how  to 
play  this  game  successfully.  What  had  happened  in  die  great  age 
of  Greece  happened  again  in  Renaissance  Italy:  traditional  moral 
restraints  disappeared,  because  they  were  seen  to  be  associated 
with  superstition;  the  liberation  from  fetters  made  individuals 
energetic  and  creative,  producing  a  rare  florescence  of  genius ;  but 
the  anarchy  and  treachery  which  inevitably  resulted  from  the 
decay  of  morals  made  Italians  collectively  impotent,  and  they  fell, 
like  the  Greeks,  under  the  domination  of  nations  less  civilized 
than  themselves  but  not  so  destitute  of  social  cohesion. 

The  result,  however,  was  less  disastrous  than  in  the  case  of 
Greece,  because  the  newly  powerful  nations,  with  the  exception 
of  Spain,  showed  themselves  as  capable  of  great  achievement  as 
the  Italians  had  been.  • 

From  the  sixteenth  century  onward,  the  history  of  European 

,6 


INTRODUCTION 

thought  is  dominated  by  the  Reformation.  The  Reformation  was 
a  complex  many-sided  movement,  and  owed  its  success  to  a 
variety  of  causes.  In  the  main,  it  was  a  revolt  of  the  northern 
nations  against  the  renewed  dominion  of  Rome.  Religion  was  the 
force  that  had  subdued  the  North,  but  religion  in  Italy  had 
decayed:  the  papacy  remained  as  an  institution,  and  extracted  a 
huge  tribute  from  Germany  and  England,  but  these  nations, 
which  were  still  pious,  could  feel  no  reverence  for  the  Borgias  and 
Medicis,  who  professed  to  save  souls  from  purgatory  in  return  for 
cash  which  they  squandered  on  luxury  and  immorality.  National 
motives,  economic  motives,  and  moral  motives  all  combined  to 
strengthen  the  revolt  against  Rome.  Moreover  the  Princes  soon 
perceived  that,  if  the  Church  in  their  territories  became  merely 
national,  they  would  be  able  to  dominate  it,  and  would  thus 
become  much  more  powerful  at  home  than  they  had  been  while 
sharing  dominion  with  the  Pope.  For  all  these  reasons,  Luther's 
theological  innovations  were  welcomed  by  rulers  and  peoples  alike 
throughout  the  greater  part  of  northern  Europe. 

The  Catholic  Church  was  derived  from  three  sources.  Its  sacred 
history  was  Jewish,  its  theology  was  Greek,  its  government  and 
canon  law  were,  at  least  indirectly,  Roman.  The  Reformation 
rejected  the  Roman  elements,  softened  the  Greek  elements,  and 
greatly  strengthened  the  Judaic  elements.  It  thus  co-operated  with 
the  nationalist  forces  which  were  undoing  the  work  of  social 
cohesion  which  had  been  effected  first  by  the  Roman  Empire  and 
then  by  the  Roman  Church.  In  Catholic  doctrine,  divine  revelation 
did  not  end  with  the  scriptures,  but  continued  from  age  to  age 
through  the  medium  of  the  Church,  to  which,  therefore,  it  was 
the  duty  of  the  individual  to  submit  his  private  opinions.  Pro- 
testants, on  the  contrary,  rejected  the  Church  as  a  vehicle  of 
revelation ;  truth  was  to  be  sought  only  in  the  Bible,  which  each 
man  could  interpret  for  himself.  If  men  differed  in  their  interpre- 
tation, there  was  no  divinely  appointed  authority  to  decide  the 
dispute.  In  practice,  the  State  claimed  the  right  that  had  formerly 
belonged  to  the  Church,  but  this  was  a  usurpation.  In  Protestant 
theory,  there  should  be  no  earthly  intermediary  between  the  soul 
and  God. 

The  effects  of  this  change  were  momentous.  Truth  was  no 
longer  to  be  ascertained  by  consulting  authority,  but  by  inward 

meditation,  There  was  a  tendency,  quickly  developed,  towards 

• 

«7 


WESTERN   PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

anarchism  in  politics,  and,  in  religion,  towards  mysticism,  which 
had  always  fitted  with  difficulty  into  the  framework  of  Catholic 
orthodoxy.  There  came  to  be  not  one  Protestantism,  but  a  multi- 
tude of  sects ;  not  one  philosophy  opposed  to  scholasticism,  but  as 
many  as  there  were  philosophers ;  not,  as  in  the  thirteenth  century, 
one  Emperor  opposed  to  the  Pope,  but  a  large  number  of  heretical 
kings.  The  result,  in  thought  as  in  literature,  was  a  continually 
deepening  subjectivism,  operating  at  first  as  a  wholesome  liberation 
from  spiritual  slavery,  but  advancing  steadily  towards  a  personal 
isolation  inimical  to  social  sanity. 

Modern  philosophy  begins  with  Descartes,  whose  fundamental 
certainty  is  the  existence  of  himself  and  his  thoughts,  from  which 
the  external  world  is  to  be  inferred.  This  was  only  the  first  stage 
in  a  development,  through  Berkeley  and  Kant,  to  Fichte,  for  whom 
everything  is  only  an  •„  rruiii..*!.  :>  oft!:?  *  so.  This  was  insanity,  and, 
from  this  extreme,  philosophy  has  been  attempting,  ever  since,  to 
escape  into  the  world  of  everyday  common  sense. 

With  subjectivism  in  philosophy,  anarchism  in  politics  goes 
hand  in  hand.  Already  during  Luther's  lifetime,  unwelcome  and 
unacknowledged  disciples  had  developed  the  doctrine  of  Ana- 
baptism,  which,  for  a  time,  dominated  the  city  of  Miinster.  The 
Anabaptists  repudiated  all  law,  since  they  held  that  the  good  man 
will  be  guided  at  every  moment  by  the  Holy  Spirit,  who  cannot 
be  bound  by  formulas.  From  this  premiss  they  arrive  at  com- 
munism and  sexual  promiscuity ;  they  were  therefore  exterminated 
after  a  heroic  resistance.  But  their  doctrine,  in  softened  forms, 
spread  to  Holland,  England  and  America;  historically,  it  is  the 
source  of  Quakerism.  A  fiercer  form  of  anarchism,  no  longer  con- 
nected with  religion,  arose  in  the  nineteenth  century.  In  Russia, 
in  Spain,  and  to  a  lesser  degree  in  Italy,  it  had  considerable 
success,  and  to  this  day  it  remains  a  bugbear  of  the  American 
immigration  authorities.  This  modern  form,  though  anti-religious, 
has  still  much  of  the  spirit  of  early  Protestantism ;  it  differs  mainly 
in  directing  against  secular  governments  the  hostility  that  Luther 
directed  against  popes. 

Subjectivity,  once  let  loose,  could  not  be  confined  within  limits 
until  it  had  run  its  course.  In  morals,  the  Protestant  emphasis  on 
the  individual  conscience  was  essentially  anarchic.  Habit  and 
custom  were  so  strong  that,  except  in  occasional  outbreaks  such 
as  that  of  Mtinstcr,  the  disciples  of  individualism  in  ethics  con- 

18 


INTRODUCTION 

tinued  to  act  in  a  manner  which  was  conventionally  virtuous.  But 
this  was  a  precarious  equilibrium.  The  eighteenth-century  cult  of 
"sensibility"  began  to  break  it  down:  an  act  was  admired,  not  for 
its  good  consequences,  or  for  its  conformity  to  a  moral  code,  but 
for  die  emotion  that  inspired  it.  Out  of  this  attitude  developed  the 
cult  of  the  hero,  as  it  is  expressed  by  Carlyle  and  Nietzsche,  and 
the  Byronic  cult  of  violent  passion  of  no  matter  what  kind. 

The  romantic  movement,  in  art,  in  literature,  and  in  politics,  is 
hound  up  with  this  subjective  way  of  judging  men,  not  as  members 
of  a  community,  but  as  aesthetically  delightful  objects  of  con- 
templation. Tigers  are  more  beautiful  than  sheep,  but  we  prefer 
them  behind  bars.  The  typical  romantic  removes  the  bars  and 
enjoys  the  magnificent  leaps  with  which  the  tiger  annihilates  the 
sheep.  He  exhorts  men  to  imagine  themselves  tigers,  and  when  he 
succeeds  the  results  are  not  wholly  pleasant. 

Against  the  more  insane  forms  of  subjectivism  in  modern  times 
there  have  been  various  reactions.  First,  a  half-way  compromise 
philosophy,  the  doctrine  of  liberalism,  which  attempted  to  assign 
the  respective  spheres  of  government  and  the  individual.  This 
begins,  in  its  modern  form,  with  Locke,  who  is  as  much  opposed 
to  "enthusiasm" — the  individualism  of  the  Anabaptists — as  to 
absolute  authority  and  blind  subservience  to  tradition.  A  more 
thoroughgoing  revolt  leads  to  the  doctrine  of  State  worship, 
which  assigns  to  the  State  the  position  that  Catholicism  gave 
to  the  Church,  or  even,  sometimes,  to  God.  Hobbes,  Rousseau, 
and  Hegel  represent  different  phases  of  this  theory,  and  their 
doctrines  are  embodied  practically  in  Cromwell,  Napoleon,  and 
modern  Germany.  Communism,  in  theory,  is  far  removed  from 
such  philosophies,  but  is  driven,  in  practice,  to  a  type  of  com- 
munity very  similar  to  that  which  results  from  State  worship. 

Throughout  this  long  development,  from  600  B.C.  to  the  present 
day,  philosophers  have  been  divided  into  those  who  wished  to 
tighten  social  bonds  and  those  who  wished  to  relax  them.  With 
this  difference  others  have  been  associated.  The  disciplinarians 
have  advocated  some  system  of  dogma,  either  old  or  new,  and 
have  therefore  been  compelled  to  be,  in  a  greater  or  less  degree, 
hostile  to  science,  since  their  dogmas  could  not  be  proved  empiri- 
cally. They  have  almost  invariably  taught  that  happiness  is  not 
the  good,  but  that  "nobility"  or  "heroism"  is  to  be  preferred. 
'1 'hey  .have  had  a  sympathy  with  the  irrational  parts  of  human 

19 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

nature,  since  they  have  felt  reason  to  be  inimical  to  social  cohesion. 
The  libertarians,  on  the  other  hand,  with  the  exception  of  the 
extreme  anarchists,  have  tended  to  be  scientific,  utilitarian, 
rationalistic,  hostile  to  violent  passion,  and  enemies  of  all  the 
more  profound  forms  of  religion.  This  conflict  existed  in  Greece 
before  the  rise  of  what  we  recognize  as  philosophy,  and  is  already 
quite  explicit  in  the  earliest  Greek  thought.  In  changing  forms, 
it  has  persisted  down  to  the  present  day,  and  no  doubt  will  persist 
for  many  ages  to  come. 

It  is  clear  that  each  party  to  this  dispute — as  to  all  that  persist 
through  long  periods  of  time — is  partly  right  and  partly  wrong. 
Social  cohesion  is  a  necessity,  and  mankind  has  never  yet  succeeded 
in  enforcing  cohesion  by  merely  rational  arguments.  Every  com- 
munity is  exposed  to  two  opposite  dangers;  ossification  through 
too  much  discipline  and  reverence  for  tradition,  on  the  one  hand; 
on  the  other  hand,  dissolution,  or  subjection  to  foreign  conquest, 
through  the  growth  of  an  individualism  and  personal  independence 
that  makes  co-operation  impossible.  In  general,  important  civili- 
zations start  with  a  rigid  and  superstitious  system,  gradually 
relaxed,  and  leading,  at  a  certain  stage,  to  a  period  of  brilliant 
genius,  while  the  good  of  the  old  tradition  remains  and  the  evil 
inherent  in  its  dissolution  has  not  yet  developed.  But  as  the  evil 
unfolds,  it  leads  to  anarchy,  thence,  inevitably,  to  a  new  tyranny, 
producing  a  new  synthesis  secured  by  a  new  system  of  dogma. 
The  doctrine  of  liberalism  is  an  attempt  to  escape  from  this 
endless  oscillation.  The  essence  of  liberalism  is  an  attempt  to 
secure  a  social  order  not  based  on  irrational  dogma,  and  insuring 
stability  without  involving  more  restraints  than  are  necessary 
for  the  preservation  of  the  community.  Whether  this  attempt 
can  succeed  only  the  future  can  determine. 


20 


Book  One  ANCIENT   PHILOSOPHY 

Part  i. — The  Pre-Socratics 

Chapter  I 
THE    RISE    OF    GREEK    CIVILIZATION 

IN  all  history,  nothing  is  so  surprising  or  so  difficult  to  account 
for  as  the  sudden  rise  of  civilization  in  Greece.  Much  of  what 
makes  civilization  had  already  existed  for  thousands  of  years  in 
Egypt  and  in  Mesopotamia,  and  had  spread  thence  to  neighbouring 
countries.  But  certain  elements  had  been  lacking  until  the  Greeks 
supplied  them.  What  they  achieved  in  art  and  literature  is  familiar 
to  even-body,  but  what  they  did  in  the  purely  intellectual  realm 
is  even  more  exceptional.  They  invented  mathematics1  and 
science  and  philosophy ;  they  first  wrote  history  fcsx  opposed  to 
mere  annals;  they  speculated  freely  about  the  nature  of  the  world 
and  the  ends  of  life,  without  being  bound  in  the  fetters  of  any 
inherited  orthodoxy.  What  occurred  was  so  astonishing  that,  until 
very  recent  times,  men  were  content  to  gape  and  talk  mystically 
about  the  Greek  genius.  It  is  possible,  however,  to  understand 
the  development  of  Greece  in  scientific  terms,  and  it  is  well  worth 
while  to  do  so. 

Philosophy  begins  with  Thalcs,  who,  fortunately,  can  be  dated 
by  the  fact  that  he  predicted  an  eclipse  which,  according  to  the 
astronomers,  occurred  in  the  year  585  B.C.  Philosophy  and  science 
— which  were  not  originally  separate — were  therefore  born 
together  at  the  beginning  of  the  sixth  century.  What  had  been 
happening  in  Greece  and  neighbouring  countries  before  this 
lime?  Any  answer  must  be  in  part  conjectural,  but  archaeology, 
during  the  present  century,  has  given  us  much  more  knowledge 
than  was  possessed  by  our  grandfathers. 

1  Arithmetic* and  some  geometry  existed  among  die  Egyptians  and 
Babylonians,  but  mainly  in  the  form  of  rules  of  thumb.  Dqductive 
reasoning  from  general  premisses  was  a  Greek  innovation. 

21 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL    THOUGHT 

The  art  of  writing  was  invented  in  Egypt  about  the  year 
4000  B.C.,  and  in  Mesopotamia  not  much  later.  In  each  country 
writing  began  with  pictures  of  the  objects  intended.  These 
pictures  quickly  became  conventionalized,  so  that  words  were 
represented  by  ideograms,  as  they  still  are  in  China.  In  the  course 
of  thousands  of  years,  this  cumbrous  system  developed  into 
alphabetic  writing. 

The  early  development  of  civilization  in  Egypt  and  Meso- 
potamia was  due  to  the  Nile,  the  Tigris,  and  the  Euphrates, 
which  made  agriculture  very  easy  and  very  productive.  The 
civilization  was  in  many  ways  similar  to  that  which  the  Spaniards 
found  in  Mexico  and  Peru.  There  was  a  divine  king,  with  despotic 
powers;  in  Egypt,  he  owned  all  the  land.  There  was  a  polytheistic 
religion,  with  a  supreme  god  to  whom  the  king  had  a  specially 
intimate  relation.  There  was  a  military  aristocracy,  and  also  a 
priestly  aristocracy.  The  latter  was  often  able  to  encroach  on  the 
royal  power,  if  the  king  was  weak  or  if  he  was  engaged  in  a 
difficult  war.  The  cultivators  of  the  soil  were  serfs,  belonging 
to  the  king,  the  aristocracy,  or  the  priesthood. 

There  was  a  considerable  difference  between  Egyptian  and 
Babylonian  theology.  The  Egyptians  were  preoccupied  with 
death,  and  believed  that  the  souls  of  the  dead  descend  into  the 
underworld,  where  they  are  judged  by  Osiris  according  to  the 
manner  of  their  life  on  earth.  They  thought  that  the  soul  would 
ultimately  return  to  the  body;  this  led  to  mummification  and 
to  the  construction  of  splendid  tomks.  The  pyramids  were  built 
by  various  kings  at  the  end  of  the  fourth  millennium  B.C.  and 
the  beginning  of  the  third.  After  this  time,  Egyptian  civilization 
became  more  and  more  stereotyped,  and  religious  conservatism 
made  progress  impossible.  About  1800  B.C.  Epypt  was  conquered 
by  Semites  named  Hyksos,  who  ruled  the  country  for  about 
two  centuries.  They  left  no  permanent  mark  on  Epypt,  but  their 
presence  there  must  have  helped  to  spread  Egyptian  civilization 
in  Syria  ami  Palestine. 

Babylonia  had  a  more  warlike  development  than  Egypt.  At 
first,  the  ruling  race  were  not  Semites,  but  "Sumcrtans,"  whose 
origin  is  unknown.  They  invented  cuneiform  writing,  which  the 
conquering  Semites  took  over  from  them.  There  was  a  period 
when  there  ucrc  various  independent  cities  whicfi  fought  with 
each  other,  but  in  the  end  Babylon  became  supreme  and  <*n»tab* 


THE   RISE   OP    GREEK    CIVILIZATION 

lished  an  empire.  The  gods  of  other  cities  became  subordinate, 
and  Marduk,  the  god  of  Babylon,  acquired  a  position  like  that 
later  held  by  Zeus  in  the  Greek  pantheon.  The  same  sort  of 
thing  had  happened  in  Egypt,  but  at  a  much  earlier  time. 

The  religions  of  Egypt  and  Babylonia,  like  other  ancient 
religions,  were  originally  fertility  cults.  The  earth  was  female, 
the  sun  male.  The  bull  was  usually  regarded  as  an  embodiment 
of  male  fertility,  and  bull-gods  were  common.  In  Babylon, 
Ishtar,  the  earth-goddess,  was  supreme  among  female  divinities. 
Throughout  western  Asia,  the  Great  Mother  was  worshipped 
under  various  names.  When  Greek  colonists  in  Asia  Mjnor 
found  temples  to  her,  they  named  her  Artemis  and  took  over 
the  existing  cult.  This  is  the  origin  of  "Diana  of  the  Ephesians."1 
Christianity  transformed  her  into  the  Virgin  Mary,  and  it  was  a 
Council  at  Ephesus  that  legitimated  the  title  "Mother  of  God" 
as  applied  to  Our  Lady. 

Where  a  religion  was  bound  up  with  the  government  of  an 
empire,  political  motives  did  much  to  transform  its  primitive 
features.  A  god  or  goddess  became  associated  with  the  State,  and 
had  to  give,  not  only  an  abundant  harvest,  but  victory  in  war. 
A  rich  priestly  caste  elaborated  the  ritual  and  the  theology,  and 
fitted  together  into  a  pantheon  the  several  divinities  of  the  com- 
ponent parts  of  the  empire. 

Through  association  with  government,  the  gods  also  became 
associated  with  morality.  Lawgivers  received  their  codes  from  a 
god;  thus  a  breach  of  the  law  became  an  impiety.  The  oldest 
legal  code  still  known  is  that  of  Hammurabi,  king  of  Babylon, 
about  2100  B.C.  ;  this  code  was  asserted  by  the  king  to  have  been 
delivered  to  him  by  Marduk.  The  connection  between  religion 
and  morality  became  continually  closer  throughout  ancient  times. 

Babylonian  religion,  unlike  that  of  Egypt,  was  more  concerned 
with  prosperity  in  this  world  than  with  happiness  in  the  next. 
Magic,  divination,  and  astrology,  though  not  peculiar  to  Baby- 
lonia, were  more  developed  there  than  elsewhere,  and  it  was 
chiefly  through  Babylon  that  they  acquired  their  hold  on  later 
antiquity.  From  Babylon  come  some  things  that  belong  to  science: 
the  division  of  the  day  into  twenty-four  hours,  and  of  the  circle 

1  Diana  wa*  the  I*atin  equivalent  of  Artemis.  It  is  Artemis  who  is 
mentioned  in  the  Greek  Testament  where^our  translation  speaks  of 
Diana* 


WESTERN   PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

into  360  degrees ;  also  the  discovery  of  a  cycle  in  eclipses,  which 
enabled  lunar  eclipses  to  be  predicted  with  certainty,  and  solar 
eclipses  with  some  probability.  This  Babylonian  knowledge,  as 
we  shall  see,  was  acquired  by  Thales. 

The  civilizations  of  Egypt  and  Mesopotamia  were  agricultural, 
and  those  of  surrounding  nations,  at  first,  were  pastoral.  A  new 
element  came  with  the  development  of  commerce,  which  was  at 
first  almost  entirely  maritime.  Weapons,  until  about  1000  B.C., 
were  made  of  bronze,  and  nations  which  did  not  have  the  neces- 
sary metals  on  their  own  territory  were  obliged  to  obtain  them 
by  trade  or  piracy.  Piracy  was  a  temporary  expedient,  and  where 
social  and  political  conditions  were  fairly  stable,  commerce  was 
found  to  be  more  profitable.  In  commerce,  the  island  of  Crete 
seems  to  have  been  the  pioneer.  For  about  eleven  centuries,  say 
from  2500  B.C.  to  1400  B.C.,  an  artistically  advanced  culture, 
called  the  Minoan,  existed  in  Crete.  What  survives  of  Cretan 
art  gives  an  impression  of  cheerfulness  and  almost  decadent 
luxury,  very  different  from  the  terrifying  gloom  of  Egyptian 
temples. 

Of  this  important  civilization  almost  nothing  was  known  until 
the  excavations  of  Sir  Arthur  Evans  and  others.  It  was  a  maritime 
civilization,  in  close  touch  with  Egypt  (except  during  the  time  of 
the  Hyksos).  From  Egyptian  pictures  it  is  evident  that  the  very 
considerable  commerce  between  Egypt  and  Crete  was  carried 
on  by  Cretan  sailors;  this  commerce  reached  its  maximum 
about  1500  B.C.  The  Cretan  religion  appears  to  have  had  some 
affinities  with  the  religions  of  Syria  and  Asia  Minor,  but  in  art 
there  was  more  affinity  with  Egypt,  though  Cretan  art  was  very 
original  and  amazingly  full  of  life.  The  centre  of  the  Cretan 
civilization  was  the  so-called  "palace  of  Minos"at  Knossos,of  which 
memories  lingered  in  the  traditions  of  classical  Greece.  The  palaces 
of  Crete  were  very  magnificent,  but  were  destroyed  about  the 
end  of  the  fourteenth  century  B.C.,  probably  by  invaders  from 
Greece.  The  chronology  of  Cretan  history  is  derived  from  Egyp- 
tian objects  found  in  Crete,  and  Cretan  objects  found  in 
Egypt ;  throughout,  our  knowledge  is  dependent  on  archaeological 
evidence. 

The  Cretans  worshipped  a  goddess,  or  perhaps  several  goddesses. 
The  most  indubitable  goddess  was  the  "Mistress  of  Animals," 
who  was  a  huntress,  and  probably  the  source  of  the  classical 


THE   RISE   OF    GREEK   CIVILIZATION 

Artemis.1  She  apparently  was  also  a  mother;  the  only  male  deity, 
apart  from  the  "Master  of  Animals,"  is  her  young  son.  There  is 
some  evidence  of  belief  in  an  after  life,  in  which,  as  in  Egyptian 
belief,  deeds  on  earth  receive  reward  or  retribution.  But  on  the 
whole  the  Cretans  appear,  from  their  art,  to  have  been  cheerful 
people,  not  much  oppressed  by  gloomy  superstitions.  They  were 
fond  of  bull-fights,  at  which  female  as  well  as  male  toreadors 
performed  amazing  acrobatic  feats.  Sir  Arthur  Evans  thinks  that 
the  bull-fights  were  religious  celebrations,  and  that  the  performers 
belonged  to  the  highest  nobility,  but  this  view  is  not  generally 
accepted.  The  surviving  pictures  are  full  of  movement  and  realism. 

The  Cretans  had  a  linear  script,  but  it  has  not  been  deciphered. 
At  home  they  were  peaceful,  and  their  cities  were  un walled; 
no  doubt  they  were  defended  by  sea  power. 

Before  the  destruction  of  the  Minoan  culture,  it  spread,  about 
1600  B.C.,  to  the  mainland  of  Greece,  where  it  survived,  through 
gradual  stages  of  modification,  until  about  900  B.C.  This  mainland 
civilization  is  called  the  Mycenaean;  it  is  known  through  the 
tombs  of  kings,  and  also  through  fortresses  on  hill-tops,  which 
show  more  fear  of  war  than  had  existed  in  Crete.  Both  tombs 
and  fortresses  remained  to  impress  the  imagination  of  classical 
Greece.  The  older  art  products  in  the  palaces  are  either  actually 
of  Cretan  workmanship,  or  closely  akin  to  those  of  Crete.  The 
Mycenaean  civilization,  seen  through  a  haze  of  legend,  is  that 
which  is  depicted  in  Homer. 

There  is  much  uncertainty  concerning  the  Mycenaeans.  Did 
they  owe  their  civilization  to  being  conquered  by  the  Cretans? 
Did  they  speak  Greek,  or  were  they  an  earlier  indigenous  race? 
No  certain  answer  to  these  questions  is  possible,  but  there  is 
evidence  which  makes  it  probable  that  they  were  conquerors 
who  spoke  Greek,  and  that  at  least  the  aristocracy  consisted  of 
fair-haired  invaders  from  the  North,  who  brought  the  Greek 
language  with  them.8  The  Greeks  came  to  Greece  in  three 
successive  waves,  first  the  lonians,  then  the  Achaeans,  and  last 
the  Dorians.  The  lonians  appear,  though  conquerors,  to  have 

1  She  has  a  male  twin  or  consort,  the  "Master  of  Animals/'  but  he  is 
less  prominent.  It  was  at  a  later  date  that  Artemis  was  identified  with  the 
Great  Mother  %f  Asia  Minor. 

1  See  The  Minoan- Mycenaean  Religion  and  Its  Survival  in  Greek 
Religion,  by  Martin  P.  Nilsson,  p.  1 1  M. 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

adopted  the  Cretan  civilization  pretty  completely,  as,  later,  the 
Romans  adopted  the  civilization  of  Greece.  But  the  lonians  were 
disturbed,  and  largely  dispossessed,  by  their  successors,  the 
Achaeans.  The  Achaeans  are  known,  from  the  Hittite  tablets 
found  at  Boghaz-Keui,  to  have  had  a  large  organized  empire 
in  the  fourteenth  century  B.C.  The  Mycenaean  civilization, 
which  had  been  weakened  by  the  warfare  of  the  lonians  and 
Achaeans,  was  practically  destroyed  by  the  Dorians,  the  last 
Greek  invaders.  Whereas  previous  invaders  had  largely  adopted 
the  Minoan  religion,  the  Dorians  retained  the  original  Indo- 
European  religion  of  their  ancestors.  The  religion  of  Mycenaean 
times,  however,  lingered  on,  especially  in  the  lower  classes,  and 
the  religion  of  classical  Greece  was  a  blend  of  the  two.  In  fact 
some  of  the  classical  goddesses  were  of  Mycenaean  origin. 

Although  the  above  account  seems  probable,  it  must  be  re- 
membered that  we  do  not  know  whether  the  Mycenaeans  were 
Greeks  or  not.  What  we  do  know  is  that  their  civilization  decayed, 
that  about  the  time  when  it  ended  iron  superseded  bronze, 
and  that  for  some  time  sea  supremacy  passed  to  the  Phoenicians. 

Both  during  the  later  part  of  the  Mycenaean  age  and  after  its 
end,  some  of  the  invaders  settled  down  and  became  agriculturists, 
while  some  pushed  on,  first  into  the  islands  and  Asia  Minor, 
then  into  Sicily  and  southern  Italy,  where  they  founded  cities 
that  lived  by  maritime  commerce.  It  was  in  these  maritime  cities 
that  the  Greeks  first  made  qualitatively  new  contributions  to 
civilization ;  the  supremacy  of  Athens  came  later,  and  was  equally 
associated,  when  it  came,  with  naval  power. 

The  mainland  of  Greece  is  mountainous  and  largely  infertile. 
There  are,  however,  many  fertile  valleys,  with  easy  accx*ss  to  the 
sea,  but  cut  off  by  the  mountains  from  easy  land  communication 
with  each  other.  In  these  valleys  little  separate  communities  grew 
up,  living  by  agriculture,  and  centring  round  a  town,  generally 
close  to  the  sea.  In  such  circumstances  it  was  natural  that,  as 
soon  as  the  population  of  any  community  grew  too  great  for  its 
internal  resources,  those  who  could  not  live  on  the  land  should 
take  to  seafaring.  The  cities  of  the  mainland  founded  colonies, 
often  in  places  where  it  was  much  easier  to  find  subsistence  than 
it  had  been  at  home.  Thus  in  the  earliest  historical  period  the 
Greeks  of  Asia  Minor,  Sicily,  and  Italy  were  much  richer  than 
those  of  the  Greek  mainland. 

36 


THE   RISE   OF    GREEK   CIVILIZATION 

The  social  system  was  very  different  in  different  parts  of 
Greece.  In  Sparta,  a  small  aristocracy  subsisted  on  the  labour  of 
oppressed  serfs  of  a  different  race;  in  the  poorer  agricultural 
regions,  the  population  consisted  mainly  of  fanners  cultivating 
their  own  land  with  the  help  of  their  families.  But  where  commerce 
and  industry  flourished,  the  free  citizens  grew  rich  by  the  em- 
ployment of  slaves — male  in  the  mines,  female  in  the  textile 
industry.  These  slaves  were,  in  Ionia,  of  the  surrounding  bar- 
barian population,  and  were,  as  a  rule,  first  acquired  in  war. 
With  increasing  wealth  went  increasing  isolation  of  respectable 
women,  who  in  later  times  had  little  part  in  the  civilized  aspects 
of  Greek  life  except  in  Sparta  and  Lesbos. 

There  was  a  very  general  development,  first  from  monarchy 
to  aristocracy,  then  to  an  alternation  of  tyranny  and  democracy. 
The  kings  were  not  absolute,  like  those  of  Egypt  and  Babylonia; 
they  were  advised  by  a  Council  of  Elders,  and  could  not  transgress 
custom  with  impunity.  "Tyranny"  did  not  mean  necessarily 
bad  government,  but  only  the  rule  of  a  man  whose  claim  to 
power  was  not  hereditary.  "Democracy"  meant  government 
by  all  the  citizens,  among  whom  slaves  and  women  were  not 
included.  The  early  tyrants,  like  the  Medici,  acquired  their 
power  through  being  the  richest  members  of  their  respective 
plutocracies.  Often  the  source  of  their  wealth  was  the  ownership 
of  gold  and  silver  mines,  made  the  more  profitable  by  the  new 
institution  of  coinage,  which  came  from  the  kingdom  of  Lydia, 
adjacent  to  Ionia.1  Coinage  seems  to  have  been  invented  shortly 
before  700  B.C. 

One  of  the  most  important  results,  to  the  Greeks,  of  commerce 
or  piracy — at  first  the  two  are  scarcely  distinct — was  the  acqui- 
sition of  the  art  of  writing.  Although  writing  had  existed  for 
thousands  of  years  in  Egypt  and  Babylonia,  and  the  Minonn 
Cretans  had  a  script  (which  has  not  been  deciphered),  there  is 
no  conclusive  evidence  that  the  Greeks  acquired  alphabetic 
writing  until  about  the  tenth  century  B.C.  They  learnt  the  art 
from  the  Phoenicians,  who,  like  the  other  inhabitants  of  Syria, 
were  exposed  to  both  Egyptian  and  Babylonian  influences,  and 
who  held  the  supremacy  in  maritime  commerce  until  the  rise 
of  the  Greek  cities  of  Ionia,  Italy,  and  Sicily.  In  the  fourteenth 
century,  writirffc  to  Ikhnaton  (the  heretic  king  of  Egypt),  Syrians 
1  Sec  P.  N.  Ure,  The  Origin  of  Tyranny. 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

still  used  the  Babylonian  cuneiform;  but  Hiram  of  Tyre  (969- 
936)  used  the  Phoenician  alphabet,  which  probably  developed  out 
of  the  Egyptian  script.  The  Egyptians  used,  at  first,  a  pure  picture 
writing;  gradually  the  pictures,  much  conventionalized,  came  to 
represent  syllables  (the  first  syllables  of  the  names  of  the  things 
pictured),  and  at  last  single  letters,  on  the  principle  of  "A  was 
an  Archer  who  shot  at  a  frog."1  This  last  step,  which  was  not 
taken  with  any  completeness  by  the  Egyptians  themselves,  but 
by  the  Phoenicians,  gave  the  alphabet  with  all  its  advantages. 
The  Greeks,  borrowing  from  the  Phoenicians,  altered  the  alphabet 
to  suit  their  language,  and  made  the  important  innovation  of 
adding  vowels  instead  of  having  only  consonants.  There  can  be 
no  doubt  that  the  acquisition  of  this  convenient  method  of 
writing  greatly  hastened  the  rise  of  Greek  civilization. 

The  first  notable  product  of  the  Hellenic  civilization  was 
Homer.  Even-thing  about  Homer  is  conjectural,  but  there  is  a 
widely  held  opinion  that  he  was  a  series  of  poets  rather  than  an 
individual.  According  to  those  who  hold  this  opinion,  the  Iliad 
and  the  Odyssey  between  them  took  about  two  hundred  years 
to  complete,  some  say  from  750  lo  550  B.r.,2  while  others  hold 
that  "Homer"  was  nearly  complete  at  the  end  of  the  eighth 
century.3  The  Homeric  poems,  in  their  present  form,  were 
brought  to  Athens  by  Peisistratus,  who  reigned  (with  inter- 
missions) from  560  to  527  B.C.  From  his  time  onward,  the  Athe- 
nian youth  learnt  Homer  by  heart,  and  this  was  the  most  important 
part  of  their  education.  In  some  parts  of  Greece,  notably  in  Sparta, 
Homer  had  not  the  same  prestige  until  a  later  date. 

The  Homeric  poems,  like  the  courtly  romances  of  the  later 
Middle  Ages,  represent  the  point  of  view  of  a  civilized  aristocracy, 
which  ignores  as  plebeian  various  superstitions  that  arc  still 
rampant  among  the  populace.  In  much  later  times,  many  of  these 
superstitions  rose  again  to  the  light  of  day.  Guided  by  anthropology, 
many  modern  writers  have  come  to  the  conclusion  that  Homer, 
so  far  from  being  primitive,  was  an  expurgator,  a  kind  of  eighteenth 
century  rationalizer  of  ancient  myths,  holding  up  an  upper-class 

1  For  instance,  "Gimel,"  the  third  letter  of  the  Hebrew  alphabet, 
means  "camel,"  and  the  iign  for  it  is  a  conventionalized  picture  of  a 
camel. 

1  Beloch,  Gruchischf  Ge$chithtet  chap.  xii. 

§  Kottovtieflf,  History  of  the  Ancient  World,  Vol.  I.  p.  390.. 


THE   RISK   OF   GREEK   CIVILIZATION 

ideal  of  urbane  enlightenment.  The  Olympian  gods,  who  represent 
religion  in  Homer,  were  not  the  only  objects  of  worship  among  the 
Greeks,  either  in  his  time  or  later.  There  were  other  darker  and 
more  savage  elements  in  popular  religion,  which  were  kept  at 
bay  by  the  Greek  intellect  at  its  best,  but  lay  in  wait  to  pounce 
in  moments  of  weakness  or  terror.  In  the  time  of  decadence, 
beliefs  which  Homer  had  discarded  proved  to  have  persisted, 
half  buried,  throughout  the  classical  period.  This  fact  explains 
many  things  that  would  otherwise  seem  inconsistent  and  sur- 
prising. 

Primitive  religion,  everywhere,  was  tribal  rather  than  personal. 
Certain  rites  were  performed,  which  were  intended,  by  sympa- 
thetic magic,  to  further  the  interests  of  the  tribe,  especially  in 
respect  of  fertility,  vegetable,  animal,  and  human.  The  winter 
solstice  was  a  time  when  the  sun  had  to  be  encouraged  not  to 
kro  on  diminishing  in  strength;  spring  and  harvest  also  called 
for  appropriate  ceremonies.  These  were  often  such  as  to  generate 
a  great  collective  excitement,  in  which  individuals  lost  their 
sense  of  separatcness  and  felt  themselves  at  one  with  the  whole 
tribe.  All  over  the  world,  at  a  certain  stage  of  religious  evolution, 
sacred  animals  and  human  beings  were  ceremonially  killed  and 
eaten.  In  different  regions,  this  stage  occurred  at  very  different 
dates.  Human  sacrifice  usually  lasted  longer  than  the  sacrificial 
eating  of  human  victims;  in  Greece  it  was  not  yet  extinct  at  the 
beginning  of  historical  times.  Fertility  rites  without  such  cruel 
aspects  were  common  throughout  Greece;  the  Eleusinian  mys- 
teries, in  particular,  were  essentially  agricultural  in  their  symbolism. 

It  must  he  admitted  that  religion,  in  Homer,  is  not  very  religious. 
The  gods  are  completely  human,  differing  from  men  only  in 
being  immortal  and  possessed  of  superhuman  powers.  Morally, 
there  is  nothing  to  be  said  for  them,  and  it  is  difficult  to  see  how 
they  can  have  inspired  much  awe.  In  some  passages,  supposed 
to  be  late,  they  are  treated  with  Voltairean  irreverence.  Such 
genuine  religious  feeling  as  is  to  be  found  in  Homer  is  less  con- 
cerned with  the  gods  of  Olympus  than  with  more  shadowy 
beings  such  as  Fate  or  Necessity  or  Destiny,  to  whom  even  Zeus 
is  subject.  Fate  exercised  a  great  influence  on  all  Greek  thought, 
and  perhaps  was  one  of  the  sources  from  which  science  derived 
the  belief  in  natural  law. 

1  lomeric  gods  were  the  gods  of  a  conquering  aristocracy, 

29 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL    THOUGHT 

not  the  useful  fertility  gods  of  those  who  actually  tilled  the  soil. 
As  Gilbert  Murray  says  r1 

"The  gods  of  most  nations  claim  to  have  created  the  world. 
The  Olympians  make  no  such  claim.  The  most  they  ever  did  was 
to  conquer  it.  ...  And  when  they  have  conquered  their  kingdoms, 
what  do  they  do?  Do  they  attend  to  the  government?  Do  they 
promote  agriculture?  Do  they  practise  trades  and  industries? 
Not  a  bit  of  it.  Why  should  they  do  any  honest  work?  They 
find  it  easier  to  live  on  the  revenues  and  blast  with  thunderbolts 
the  people  who  do  not  pay.  They  are  conquering  chieftains, 
royal  buccaneers.  They  fight,  and  feast,  and  play,  and  make 
music;  they  drink  deep,  and  roar  with  laughter  at  the  lame  smith 
who  waits  on  them.  They  are  never  afraid,  except  of  their  own 
king.  They  never  tell  lies,  except  in  love  and  war." 

Homer's  human  heroes,  equally,  are  not  very  well  behaved. 
The  leading  family  is  the  House  of  Pelops,  but  it  did  not  succeed 
in  setting  a  pattern  of  happy  family  life. 

"Tantalos,  the  Asiatic  founder  of  the  dynasty,  began  its  career 
by  a  direct  offence  airainst  the  gods;  some  said,  by  trying  to 
cheat  them  into  eating  human  flesh,  that  of  his  o\vn  son  Pelops. 
Pelops,  having  been  miraculously  restored  to  life,  offended  in 
his  turn.  He  won  his  famous  chariot-race  against  Oinomans, 
king  of  Pisa,  by  the  connivance  of  the  latter's  charioteer,  Myrtibs, 
and  then  got  rid  of  his  confederate,  whom  he  had  promised  to 
reward,  by  flinging  him  into  the  sea.  The  curse  descended  to 
his  sons,  Atreus  and  Thyestes,  in  the  form  of  what  the  Greeks 
called  ate,  a  strong  if  not  actually  irresistible  impulse  to  crime. 
Thyestes  corrupted  his  brother's  wife  and  thereby  managed 
to  steal  the  Muck*  of  the  family,  the  famous  golden-fleeced  ram. 
Atreus  in  turn  secured  his  brother's  banishment,  and  recalling 
him  under  pretext  of  a  reconciliation,  feasted  him  on  the  flesh 
of  his  own  children.  The  curse  was  now  inherited  by  Atreus' 
son  Agamemnon,  who  offended  Artemis  by  killing  a  sacred  stag, 
sacrificed  his  own  daughter  Iphigcnia  to  appease  the  goddess 
and  obtain  a  safe  passage  to  Troy  for  his  fleet,  and  was  in  turn 
murdered  by  his  faithless  wife  Klytaimnestra  and  her  paramour 
Aigisthos,  a  surviving  son  of  Thyestes.  Orestes,  Agamemnon's  son, 
in  turn  avenged  his  father  by  killing  his  mother  and  Aigisthos. "8 

1  Fh  f  Stages  of  Greek  Religion,  p.  67. 

1  Primitive  Culture  in  Greece,  IJ.  J.  Rose,  1925,  p.  193. 

3° 


THE   RISE   OP   GREEK   CIVILIZATION 

Homer  as  a  finished  achievement  was  a  product  of  Ionia,  i.e.  of 
a  part  of  Hellenic  Asia  Minor  and  the  adjacent  islands.  Some  time 
during  the  sixth  century  at  latest,  the  Homeric  poems  became 
fixed  in  their  present  form.  It  was  also  during  this  century  that 
Greek  science  and  philosophy  and  mathematics  began.  At  the 
same  time  events  of  fundamental  importance  were  happening 
in  other  parts  of  the  world.  Confucius,  Buddha,  and  Zoroaster, 
if  they  existed,  probably  belong  to  the  same  century.1  In  the 
middle  of  the  century  the  Persian  Empire  was  established  by 
Cyrus;  towards  its  close  the  Greek  cities  of  Ionia,  to  which  the 
Persians  had  allowed  a  limited  autonomy,  made  a  fruitless  rebel- 
lion, which  was  put  down  by  Darius,  and  their  best  men  became 
exiles.  Several  of  the  philosophers  of  this  period  were  refugees, 
who  wandered  from  city  to  city  in  the  still  unenslaved  parts  of 
the  Hellenic  world,  spreading  the  civilization  that,  until  then, 
had  been  mainly  confined  to  Ionia.  They  were  kindly  treated 
in  their  wanderings.  Xcnophanes,  who  flourished  in  the  later 
part  of  the  sixth  century,  and  who  was  one  of  the  refugees,  says: 
"This  is  the  sort  of  thing  we  should  say  by  the  fireside  in  the 
winter-time,  as  we  lie  on  soft  couches,  after  a  good  meal,  drinking 
sweet  wine  and  crunching  chickpeas:  'Of  what  country  are  you, 
and  how  old  are  you,  good  Sir?  And  how  old  were  you  when  the 
Mcde  appeared?1  "  The  rest  of  Greece  succeeded  in  preserving 
its  independence  at  the  battles  of  Salamis  and  Plataea,  after 
which  Ionia  was  liberated  for  a  time.* 

Greece  \vas  divided  into  a  large  number  of  small  independent 
states,  each  consisting  of  a  city  with  some  agricultural  territory 
surrounding  it.  The  level  of  civilization  was  very  different  in 
different  parts  of  the  Greek  world,  and  only  a  minority  of  cities 
contributed  to  the  total  of  Hellenic  achievement.  Sparta,  of  which 
I  shall  have  much  to  say  later,  was  important  in  a  military  sense, 
but  not  culturally.  Corinth  was  rich  and  prosperous,  a  great 
commercial  centre,  but  not  prolific  in  great  men. 

Then  there  were  purely  agricultural  rural  communities,  such 

1  Zoroaster's  date,  however,  is  very  conjectural.  Some  place  it  as  early 
as  looo  u.c.  See  Cambridge  Ancient  History,  Vol.  IV,  p.  207. 

1  As  a  result  of  the  defeat  of  Athens  by  Sparta,  the  Persians  regained 
the  whole  coast  of  Asia  Minor,  to  which  their  right  was  acknowledged  in 
the  Peace  oi  Antalcidas  (387-6  B.C.).  About  fifty  years  later,  they  were 
«ncorportteti  in  Alexander's  empire. 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

as  the  proverbial  Arcadia,  which  townsmen  imagined  to  be 
idyllic,  but  which  really  was  full  of  ancient  barbaric  horrors. 

The  inhabitants  worshipped  Hermes  and  Pan,  and  had  a 
multitude  of  fertility  cults,  in  which,  often,  a  mere  square  pillar 
did  duty  in  place  of  a  statue  of  the  god.  The  goat  was  the  symbol 
of  fertility,  because  the  peasants  were  too  poor  to  possess  bulls. 
When  food  was  scarce,  the  statue  of  Pan  was  beaten.  (Similar 
things  are  still  done  in  remote  Chinese  villages.)  There  was  a  clan 
of  supposed  were-wolves,  associated,  probably,  with  human 
sacrifice  and  cannibalism.  It  was  thought  that  whoever  tasted  the 
flesh  of  a  sacrificed  human  victim  became  a  were-wolf.  There 
was  a  cave  sacred  to  Zeus  Lykaios  (the  wolf- Zeus);  in  this  cave 
no  one  had  a  shadow,  and  whoever  entered  it  died  within  a  year. 
AH  this  superstition  was  still  flourishing  in  classical  times.1 

Pan,  whose  original  name  (some  say)  was  "Paon",  meaning  the 
feeder  or  shepherd,  acquired  his  better-known  title,  interpreted 
as  meaning  the  All-God,  when  his  worship  was  adopted  by 
Athens  in  the  fifth  century,  after  the  Persian  war.- 

There  was,  however,  in  ancient  Greece,  much  that  we  can  feel 
to  have  been  religion  as  we  understand  the  term.  This  was  con- 
nected, not  with  the  Olympians,  but  with  Dionysus,  or  Bacchus, 
whom  we  think  of  most  naturally  as  the  somewhat  disreputable- 
god  of  wine  and  drunkenness.  The  way  in  which,  out  of  his 
worship,  there  arose  a  profound  mysticism,  which  greatly  influ- 
enced many  of  the  philosophers,  and  even  had  a  part  in  shaping 
Christian  theology,  is  very  remarkable,  and  must  be  understood 
by  anyone  who  wishes  to  study  the  development  of  (ireck 
thought. 

Dionysus,  or  Bacchus,  was  originally  a  Thracian  god.  The 
Thracians  were  very  much  less  civilized  than  the  Greeks,  who 
regarded  them  as  barbarians.  Like  all  primitive  agriculturists, 
they  had  fertility  cults,  and  a  god  who  promoted  fertility.  Mis 
name  was  Bacchus.  It  was  never  quite  clear  whether  Bacchus 
had  the  shape  of  a  man  or  of  a  bull.  When  they  discovered  how 
to  make  beer,  they  thought  intoxication  divine,  and  gave  honour 
to  Bacchus.  When,  later,  they  came  to  know  the  vine  and  to  learn 
to  drink  wine,  they  thought  even  better  of  him.  His  functions  in 
promoting  fertility  in  general  became  somewhat  subordinate 

1  ROM,  Primitive  Greece,  p.  65  (I. 

1  J.  £.  Harrison,  Prolegomena  to  the  Study  of  Greek  Religion,  p.  651 

3* 


THE   RISE   OF    GREEK   CIVILIZATION 

to  his  functions  in  relation  to  the  grape  and  the  divine  madness 
produced  by  wine. 

At  what  date  his  worship  migrated  from  Thrace  to  Greece  is 
not  known,  but  it  seems  to  have  been  just  before  the  beginning 
of  historical  times.  The  cult  of  Bacchus  was  met  with  hostility 
by  the  orthodox,  but  nevertheless  it  established  itself.  It  con- 
tained many  barbaric  elements,  such  as  tearing  wild  animals 
to  pieces  and  eating  the  whole  of  them  raw.  It  had  a  curious 
element  of  feminism.  Respectable  matrons  and  maids,  in  large 
companies,  would  spend  whole  nights  on  the  bare  hills  in  dances 
which  stimulated  ecstasy,  and  in  an  intoxication  perhaps  partly 
alcoholic,  but  mainly  mystical.  Husbands  found  the  practice  an- 
noying, but  did  not  dare  to  oppose  religion.  Both  the  beauty  and 
the  savagery  of  the  cult  are  set  forth  in  the  Bacchae  of  Euripides. 

The  success  of  Dionysus  in  Greece  is  not  surprising.  Like  all 
communities  that  have  been  civilized  quickly,  the  Greeks,  or  at 
least  a  certain  proportion  of  them,  developed  a  love  of  the  primi- 
tive, and  a  hankering  after  a  more  instinctive  and  passionate 
way  of  life  than  that  sanctioned  by  current  morals.  To  the  man 
or  woman  who,  by  compulsion,  is  more  civilized  in  behaviour 
than  in  feeling,  rationality  is  irksome  and  virtue  is  felt  as  a  burden 
and  a  slavery.  This  leads  to  a  reaction  in  thought,  in  feeling,  and 
in  conduit.  It  is  the  reaction  in  thought  that  will  specially  concern 
us,  but  something  must  first  be  said  about  the  reaction  in  feeling 
and  conduct. 

The  civilized  man  is  distinguished  from  the  savage  mainly  by 
prudence^  or,  to  use  a  slightly  wider  term,  forethought.  He  is 
willing  to  endure  present  pains  for  the  sake  of  future  pleasures, 
even  if  the  future  pleasures  are  rather  distant.  This  habit  began  to 
be  important  with  the  rise  of  agriculture;  no  animal  and  no 
savage  would  work  in  the  spring  in  order  to  have  food  next 
winter,  except  for  a  few  purely  instinctive  forms  of  action,  such 
as  bees  making  honey  or  squirrels  burying  nuts.  In  these  cases, 
there  is  no  forethought ;  there  is  a  direct  impulse  to  an  act  which, 
to  the  human  spectator,  is  obviously  going  to  prove  useful  later 
on.  True  forethought  only  arises  when  a  man  does  something 
towards  which  no  impulse  urges  him,  because  his  reason  tells 
him  that  he  will  profit  by  it  at  some  future  date.  Hunting  requires 
no  forethought*  because  it  is  pleasurable ;  but  tilling  the  soil  is 
labour, and  cannot  be  done  from  spontaneous  impulse. 

tf  mary  o/  Wnt**  PAtfe***?  33  B 


WESTERN   PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

Civilization  checks  impulse  not  only  through  forethought, 
which  is  a  self-administered  check,  but  also  through  law,  custom, 
and  religion.  This  check  it  inherits  from  barbarism,  but  it  makes 
it  less  instinctive  and  more  systematic.  Certain  acts  are  labelled 
criminal,  and  are  punished ;  certain  others,  though  not  punished 
by  law,  are  labelled  wicked,  and  expose  those  who  arc  guilty  of 
them  to  social  disapproval.  The  institution  of  private  property 
brings  with  it  the  subjection  of  women,  and  usually  the  creation 
of  a  slave  class.  On  the  one  hand  the  purposes  of  the  community 
are  enforced  upon  the  individual,  and,  on  the  other  hand  the 
individual,  having  acquired  the  habit  of  viewing  his  life  as  a 
whole,  increasingly  sacrifices  his  present  to  his  future. 

It  is  evident  that  this  process  can  be  carried  too  far,  as  it  is,  for 
instance,  by  the  miser.  But  without  going  to  such  extremes 
prudence  may  easily  involve  the  loss  of  some  of  the  best  things 
in  life.  The  worshipper  of  Dionysus  reacts  against  prudence.  In 
intoxication,  physical  or  spiritual,  he  recovers  an  intensity  of 
feeling  which  prudence  had  destroyed;  he  finds  the  world  full 
of  delight  and  beauty,  and  his  imagination  is  suddenly  liberated 
from  the  prison  of  every-day  preoccupations.  The  Bacchic 
ritual  produce^  what  was  called  "enthusiasm,"  which  means, 
etymologically,  having  the  god  enter  into  the  worshipper,  who 
believed  that  he  became  one  wilh  the  god.  Much  of  what  is 
greatest  in  human  achievement  involves  some  element  of  intoxi- 
cation,1 some  sweeping  away  of  prudence  by  pasbion.  Without 
the  Bacchic  element,  life  would  be  uninteresting;  with  it,  it  is 
dangerous.  Prudence  versus  passion  is  a  conflict  that  runs  through 
history.  It  is  not  a  conflict  in  which  we  ought  to  side  wholly 
with  either  party. 

In  the  sphere  of  thought,  sober  civilization  is  roughly  synony- 
mous with  science.  But  science,  unadulterated,  is  not  satisfying; 
men  need  also  passion  and  art  and  religion.  Science  may  set 
limits  to  knowledge,  but  should  not  set  limits  to  imagination. 
Among  Greek  philosophers,  as  among  those  of  later  times,  there 
were  those  who  were  primarily  scientific  and  those  who  were 
primarily  religious;  the  latter  owed  much,  directly  or  indirectly, 
to  the  religion  of  Bacchus.  This  applies  especially  to  Plato,  and 
through  him  to  those  later  developments  which  were  ultimately 
embodied  in  Christian  theology, 

1  I  mean  mental  intoxication,  not  intoxication  by  ilcohof. 

34 


THE   RISE   OP    GREEK   CIVILIZATION 

The  worship  of  Dionysus  in  its  original  form  was  savage,  and 
in  many  ways  repulsive.  It  was  not  in  this  form  that  it  influenced 
the  philosophers,  but  in  the  spiritualized  form  attributed  to 
Orpheus,  which  was  ascetic,  and  substituted  mental  for  physical 
intoxication. 

.  Orpheus  is  a  dim  but  interesting  figure.  Some  hold  that  he  was 
an  actual  man,  others  that  he  was  a  god  or  an  imaginary  hero. 
Traditionally,  he  came  from  Thrace,  like  Bacchus,  but  it  seems 
more  probable  that  he  (or  the  movement  associated  with  his  name) 
came  from  Crete.  It  is  certain  that  Orphic  doctrines  contain 
much  that  seems  to  have  its  first  source  in  Egypt,  and  it  was 
chiefly  through  Crete  that  Egypt  influenced  Greece.  Orpheus  is 
said  to  have  been  a  reformer  who  was  torn  to  pieces  by  frenzied 
Maenads  actuated  by  Bacchic  orthodoxy.  His  addiction  u>  music 
is  not  so  prominent  in  the  older  forms  of  the  legend  as  it  became 
later.  Primarily  he  was  a  priest  and  a  philosopher. 

Whatever  may  have  been  the  teaching  of  Orpheus  (if  he  existed), 
the  teaching  of  the  Orphics  is  well  known.  They  believed  in  the 
transmigration  of  souls;  they  taught  that  the  soul  hereafter 
might  achieve  eternal  bliss  or  suffer  eternal  or  temporary  torment 
according  to  its  way  of  life  here  on  earth.  They  aimed  at  becoming 
"pure,"  partly  by  ceremonies  of  purification,  partly  by  avoiding 
certain  kinds  of  contamination.  The  most  orthodox  among  them 
abstained  from  animal  food,  except  on  ritual  occasions  when 
they  ate  it  sacramentally.  Man,  they  held,  is  partly  of  earth, 
partly  of  heaven;  by  a  pure  life  the  heavenly  part  is  increased 
and  the  earthly  part  diminished.  In  the  end  a  man  may  become 
one  with  Bacchus,  and  is  called  "a  Bacchus."  There  was  an 
elaborate  theology,  according  to  which  Bacchus  was  twice  born, 
once  of  his  mother  Semele,  and  once  from  the  thigh  of  his  father 
Zeus. 

There  are  many  forms  of  the  Dionysus  myth.  In  one  of  them, 
Dionysus  is  the  son  of  Zeus  and  Persephone;  while  still  a  boy, 
he  is  torn  to  pieces  by  Titans,  who  eat  his  flesh,  all  but  the  heart. 
Some  say  that  the  heart  was  given  by  Zeus  to  Semele,  others 
that  Zeus  swallowed  it ;  in  either  case,  it  gave  rise  to  the  second 
birth  of  Dionysus.  The  tearing  of  a  wild  animal  and  the  de- 
vouring of  its  raw  flesh  by  Bacchae  was  supposed  to  re-enact 
the  tearing  and  "eating  of  Dionysus  by  the  Titans,  and  the  animal, 
in  some*  sense,  was  an  incarnation  of  the  god.  The  Titans  were 

35 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL    THOUGHT 

earth-born,  but  after  eating  the  god  they  had  a  spark  of  divinity. 
So  man  is  partly  of  earth,  partly  divine,  and  Bacchic  rites  sought 
to  make  him  more  nearly  completely  divine. 

Euripides  puts  a  confession  into  the  mouth  of  an  Orphic  priest, 
which  is  instructive:1 

Lord  of  Europa's  Tyrian  line, 

Zeus-born,  who  holdest  at  thy  feet 
The  hundred  citadels  of  Crete, 

I  seek  to  Thee  from  that  dim  shrine, 

Roofed  by  the  Quick  and  Carven  Beam, 
By  Chalyb  steel  and  wild  bull's  blood. 
In  flawless  joints  of  Cypress  wood 

Made  steadfast.  There  is  one  pure  stream 

My  days  have  run.  The  servant  I, 
Initiate,  of  Idaean  Jove;2 
Where  midnight  Zapreus3  roves,  I  rove; 

I  have  endured  his  thunder-cry ; 

Fulfilled  his  red  and  bleeding  feasts ; 

Held  the  Great  Mother's  mountain  flume, 
I  am  set  free  and  named  by  name 

A  Bacchos  of  the  Mailed  Priests. 

Robed  in  pure  white  I  have  borne  me  clean 
From  man's  vile  birth  and  coffined  clay, 
And  exiled  from  my  lip  alway 

Touch  of  all  meat  where  Life  hath  been. 

Orphic  tablets  have  been  found  in  tombs,  giving  instructions  to 
the  soul  of  the  dead  person  as  to  how  to  find  his  way  in  the 
next  world,  and  whal  to  say  in  order  to  prove  himself  worthy  of 
salvation.  They  are  broken  and  incomplete;  the  most  nearly 
complete  (the  Petelia  tablet)  is  as  follows  : 

Thou  shah  find  on  the  left  of  the  House  of  Hades  a  Well-spring, 
And  by  the  side  thereof  standing  a  white  cypress. 
To  this  well-spring  approach  not  near. 

1  The  verse  translations  in  thtt  chapter  arc  by  Prufcttur  Gilbert 
Murray. 

*  Mystically  identified  with  DionyHu*. 
1  One  of  the  many  name*  of  I  )ionysm. 

36 


THE   RISE   OF    GREEK    CIVILIZATION 

But  thou  shalt  find  another  by  the  Lake  of  Memory, 

Cold  water  flowing  forth,  and  there  are  Guardians  before  it, 

Say:  "I  am  a  child  of  Earth  and  of  Starry  Heaven; 

But  my  race  is  of  Heaven  (alone).  This  ye  know  yourselves. 

And  lo,  I  am  parched  with  thirst  and  I  perish.  Give  me  quickly 

The  cold  water  flowing  forth  from  the  Lake  of  Memory." 

And  of  themselves  they  will  give  thee  to  drink  from  the  holy 

well-spring, 
And  thereafter  among  the  other  heroes  thou  shalt  have  lordship. . . . 

Another  tablet  says: — "Hail,  Thou  who  hast  suffered  the  suffer- 
ing .  .  .  Thou  art  become  (Sod  from  Man."  And  yet  in  another: — 
"Happy  and  Blessed  One,  thou  shalt  be  God  instead  of  mortal/' 

The  well-spring  of  which  the  soul  is  not  to  drink  is  Lethe,  which 
brings  forgetfulness;  the  other  well-spring  is  Mnemosyne,  re- 
membrance. The  soul  in  the  next  world,  if  it  is  to  achieve  salva- 
tion, is  not  to  forget,  but,  on  the  contrary,  to  acquire  a  memory 
surpassing  what  is  natural. 

The  Orphics  were  an  ascetic  sect;  wine,  to  them,  was  only  a 
symbol,  as,  later,  in  the  Christian  sacrament.  The  intoxication  that 
they  sought  was  that  of  "enthusiasm,"  of  union  with  the  god.  They 
bt-lieved  themselves,  in  this  way,  to  acquire  mystic  knowledge  not 
obtainable  by  ordinary  means.  This  mystical  element  entered  into 
Greek  philosophy  with  Pythagoras,  who  was  a  reformer  of  Orphism 
as  Orpheus  was  a  reformer  of  the  religion  of  Dionysus.  From 
Pythagoras  Orphic  elements  entered  into  the  philosophy  of  Plato, 
and  from  Plato  into  most  later  philosophy  that  was  in  any  degree 
religious. 

Certain  definitely  Bacchic  elements  survived  wherever  Orphism 
had  influence.  One  of  these  was  ferrriism,  of  which  there  was 
much  in  Pythagoras,  and  which,  in  Plato,  went  so  far  as  to  claim 
complete  political  equality  for  women.  "Women  as  a  sex,"  says 
Pythagoras,  "are  more  naturally  akin  to  piety."  Another  Bacchic 
element  was  respect  for  violent  emotion.  Greek  tragedy  grew  out 
of  the  rites  of  Dionysus.  Euripides,  especially,  honoured  the  two 
chief  gods  of  Orphism,  Dionysus  and  Eros.  He  has  no  respect  for 
the  coldly  self-righteous  well-behaved  man,  who,  in  his  tragedies, 
is  apt  to  be  driven  mad  or  otherwise  brought  to  grief  by  the  gods 
in  resentment  of  his  blasphemy. 

The  conventional  tradition  concerning  the  Greeks  is  that  they 
exhibited  an  admirable  serenity,  which  enabled  them  to  contem- 

37 


WESTERN   PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

plate  passion  from  without,  perceiving  whatever  beauty  it  exhibited 
but  themselves  calm  and  Olympian.  This  is  a  very  one-sided  view. 
It  is  true,  perhaps,  of  Homer,  Sophocles,  and  Aristotle,  but  it  is 
emphatically  not  true  of  those  Greeks  who  were  touched,  directly 
or  indirectly,  by  Bacchic  or  Orphic  influences.  At  Eleusis,  where 
the  Eleusinian  mysteries  formed  the  most  sacred  part  of  Athenian 
State  religion,  a  hymn  was  sung,  saying: 

With  Thy  wine-cup  waving  high, 
With  Thy  maddening  revelry, 
To  Eleusis'  flowery  vale, 
Comest  Thou — Bacchus,  Paean,  hail! 

In  the  Bacchae  of  Euripides,  the  chorus  of  Maenads  displays  a 
combination  of  poetry  and  savagery  which  is  the  very  reverse  of 
serene.  They  celebrate  the  delight  in  tearing  a  wild  animal  limb 
from  limb,  and  eating  it  raw  then  and  there: 

O  glad,  glad  on  the  Mountains 
To  swoon  in  the  race  outworn. 
When  the  holy  fawn-skin  clings 

And  all  else  sweeps  away, 
To  the  joy  of  the  quick  red  fountains, 
The  blood  of  the  hill-goat  torn, 
The  glory  of  wild-beast  ravenin^s 

Where  the  hill-top  catches  the  day, 
To  the  Phrygian,  Lydian  mountains 
*Tis  Hromios  leads  the  way. 

(Bromtos  was  another  of  the  many  names  of  Dionysus.)  The  dance 
of  the  Maenads  on  the  mountain  side  was  not  only  fierce;  it  was 
an  escape  from  the  burdens  and  cares  of  civilization  into  the  world 
of  non-human  beauty  and  the  freedom  of  wind  and  stars.  In  a  les< 
frenzied  mood  they  sing: 

Will  they  ever  come  to  me,  ever  a^ain, 

The  long,  long  dances, 
On  through  the  dark  till  the  dim  stars  wane  ? 
Shall  I  feel  the  dew  on  my  throat,  and  the  stream 
Of  wind  in  my  hair?  Shall  our  white  feet  j^lcam 

In  the  dim  expanses? 
O  feet  of  the  fawn  to  the  greenwood  fled, 

Alone  in  the  grass  and  the  loveliness ; 
I^eap  of  the  hunted,  no  more  in  dread, 

Beyond  the  snares  and  the  deadly  press. 


THE    RISE   OF   GREEK   CIVILIZATION 

Yet  a  voice  still  in  the  distance  sounds, 
A  voice  and  a  fear  and  a  haste  of  hounds, 
O  wildly  labouring,  fiercely  fleet, 

Onward  yet  by  river  and  glen  — 
Is  it  joy  or  terror,  ye  storm-swift  feet  ? 

To  the  dear  lone  lands  untroubled  of  men, 
Where  no  voice  sounds,  and  amid  the  shadowy  green 
The  little  things  of  the  woodland  live  unseen. 

Before  repeating  that  the  Greeks  were  "serene,"  try  to  imagine 
the  matrons  of  Philadelphia  behaving  in  this  manner,  even  in  a 
play  by  Eugene  O'Neill. 

The  Orphic  is  no  more  "serene"  than  the  unreformed  wor- 
shipper of  Dionysus.  To  the  Orphic,  life  in  this  world  is  pain  and 
weariness.  We  are  bound  to  a  wheel  which  turns  through  endless 
cycles  of  birth  and  death;  our  true  life  is  the  stars,  but  we  are 
tied  to  earth.  Only  by  purification  and  renunciation  and  an  ascetic 
life  can  we  escape  from  the  wheel  and  attain  at  last  to  the  ecstasy 
of  union  with  God.  This  is  not  the  view  of  men  to  whom  life  is 
easy  and  pleasant.  It  is  more  like  the  Negro  spiritual: 


I'm  tfoing  to  tell  God  all  of  my  troubles 
When  I  get  home. 

Not  all  of  the  Greeks,  but  a  large  proportion  of  them,  were 
passionate,  unhappy,  at  war  with  themselves,  driven  along  one 
road  by  the  intellect  and  along  another  by  the  passions,  with  the 
imagination  to  conceive  heaven  and  the  wilful  self-assertion  that 
creates  hell.  They  had  a  maxim  "nothing  too  much,"  but  they 
were  in  fact  excessive  in  everything  —  in  pure  thought,  in  poetry, 
in  religion,  and  in  sin.  It  was  the  combination  of  passion  and 
intellect  that  made  them  great,  while  they  were  great.  Neither 
alone  would  have  transformed  the  world  for  all  future  time  as 
they  transformed  it.  Their  prototype  in  mythology  is  not 
Olympian  Zeus,  but  Prometheus,  who  brought  fire  from  heaven 
and  was  rewarded  with  eternal  torment. 

If  taken  as  characterizing  the  Greeks  as  a  whole,  however,  what 
has  just  been  said  would  be  as  one-sided  as  the  view  that  the 
Greeks  were  characterized  by  "serenity."  There  were,  in  fact,  two 
tendencies  in  Greece,  one  passionate,  religious,  mystical,  other- 
worldly, the  other  cheerful,  empirical,  rationalistic,  and  interested 
in  acquiring  knowledge  of  a  diversity  of  facts.  Herodotus  represents 

39 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHTCAL   THOUGHT 

still  used  the  Babylonian  cuneiform;  but  Hiram  of  Tyre  (969- 
936)  used  the  Phoenician  alphabet,  which  probably  developed  out 
of  the  Egyptian  script.  The  Egyptians  used,  at  first,  a  pure  picture 
writing;  gradually  the  pictures,  much  conventionalized,  came  to 
represent  syllables  (the  first  syllables  of  the  names  of  the  things 
pictured),  and  at  last  single  letters,  on  the  principle  of  "A  was 
an  Archer  who  shot  at  a  frog."1  This  last  step,  which  was  not 
taken  with  any  completeness  by  the  Egyptians  themselves,  but 
by  the  Phoenicians,  gave  the  alphabet  with  all  its  advantages. 
The  Greeks,  borrowing  from  the  Phoenicians,  altered  the  alphabet 
to  suit  their  language,  and  made  the  important  innovation  of 
adding  vowels  instead  of  having  only  consonants.  There  can  be 
no  doubt  that  the  acquisition  of  this  convenient  method  of 
writing  greatly  hastened  the  rise  of  Greek  civilization. 

The  first  notable  product  of  the  Hellenic  civilization  was 
Homer.  Everything  about  Homer  is  conjectural,  but  there  is  a 
widely  held  opinion  that  he  was  a  series  of  poets  rather  than  an 
individual.  According  to  those  who  hold  this  opinion,  the  Iliad 
and  the  Odyssey  between  them  took  about  two  hundred  years 
to  complete,  some  say  from  750  to  550  B.C.,2  while  others  hold 
that  "Homer11  was  nearly  complete  at  the  end  of  the  eighth 
century.3  The  Homeric  poems,  in  their  present  form,  were 
brought  to  Athens  by  Peisistratus,  who  reigned  (with  inter- 
missions) from  560  to  527  B.C.  From  his  time  onward,  the  Athe- 
-  nian  youth  learnt  Homer  by  heart,  and  this  was  the  most  important 
part  of  their  education.  In  some  parts  of  Greece,  notably  in  Sparta, 
Homer  had  not  the  same  prestige  until  a  later  date. 

The  Homeric  poems,  like  the  courtly  romances  of  the  later 
Middle  Ages,  represent  the  point  of  view  of  a  civilized  aristocracy, 
which  ignores  as  plebeian  various  superstitions  that  arc  still 
rampant  among  the  populace.  In  much  later  times,  many  of  these 
superstitions  rose  again  to  the  light  of  day.  Guided  by  anthropology, 
many  modern  writers  have  come  to  the  conclusion  that  Homer, 
so  far  from  being  primitive,  was  an  cxpurgator,  a  kind  of  eighteenth 
century  rationalizer  of  ancient  myths,  holding  up  an  upper-class 

1  For  instance,  "Gimel,"  the  third  letter  of  the  Hebrew  alphabet, 
means  "camel/*  and  the  sign  for  it  is  a  conventionalized  picture  of  a 
camel. 

1  Oeloch,  Grieclwcht  Gttchichte,  chap.  xti. 

*  Rostovtseff,  Hittury  of  tht  Ancient  World,  Vol.  I,  p.  399. 

28 


THF   RISE   OF    GREEK   CIVILIZATION 

ideal  of  urbane  enlightenment.  The  Olympian  gods,  who  represent 
religion  in  I  tamer,  were  not  the  only  objects  of  worship  among  the 
Greeks,  either  in  his  time  or  later.  There  were  other  darker  and 
more  savage  elements  in  popular  religion,  which  were  kept  at 
bay  by  the  Greek  intellect  at  its  best,  but  lay  in  wait  to  pounce 
in  moments  of  weakness  or  terror.  In  the  time  of  decadence, 
beliefs  which  Homer  had  discarded  proved  to  have  persisted, 
half  buried,  throughout  the  classical  period.  This  fact  explains 
many  things  that  would  otherwise  seem  inconsistent  and  sur- 
prising. 

Primitive  religion,  everywhere,  was  tribal  rather  than  personal. 
Certain  rites  were  performed,  which  were  intended,  by  sympa- 
thetic magic,  to  further  the  interests  of  the  tribe,  especially  in 
respect  of  fertility,  vegetable,  animal,  and  human.  The  winter 
solstice  was  a  time  when  the  sun  had  to  be  encouraged  not  to 
go  on  diminishing  in  strength;  spring  and  harvest  also  called 
for  appropriate  ceremonies.  These  were  often  such  as  to  generate 
a  great  collective  excitement,  in  which  individuals  lost  their 
sense  of  separateness  and  felt  themselves  at  one  with  the  whole 
tribe.  All  over  the  world,  at  a  certain  stage  of  religious  evolution, 
sacred  animals  and  human  beings  were  ceremonially  killed  and 
eaten.  In  different  regions,  this  stage  occurred  at  very  different 
dates.  Human  sacrifice  usually  lasted  longer  than  the  sacrificial 
eating  of  human  victims;  in  Greece  it  was  not  yet  extinct  at  the 
beginning  of  historical  times.  Fertility  rites  without  such  cruel 
aspects  \\ere  common  throughout  Greece;  the  Eleusinian  mys- 
teries, in  particular,  were  essentially  agricultural  in  their  symbolism. 

It  must  be  admitted  that  religion,  in  Homer,  is  not  very  religious. 
The  gods  are  completely  human,  differing  from  men  only  in 
being  immortal  and  possessed  of  superhuman  powers.  Morally, 
there  is  nothing  to  be  said  for  them,  and  it  is  difficult  to  see  how 
they  can  have  inspired  much  awe.  In  some  passages,  supposed 
to  be  late,  they  are  treated  with  Voltairean  irreverence.  Such 
genuine  religious  feeling  as  is  to  be  found  in  Homer  is  less  con- 
cerned with  the  gods  of  Olympus  than  with  more  shadow)' 
beings  such  as  Fate  or  Necessity  or  Destiny,  to  whom  even  Zeus 
is  subject.  Fate  exercised  a  great  influence  on  all  Greek  thought, 
and  perhaps  was  one  of  the  sources  from  which  science  derived 
the  belief  in  nUtural  law. 

The  Homeric  gods  were  the  gods  of  a  conquering  aristocracy, 

29 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

not  the  useful  fertility  gods  of  those  who  actually  tilled  the  soil. 
As  Gilbert  Murray  says:1 

"The  gods  of  most  nations  claim  to  have  created  the  world. 
The  Olympians  make  no  such  claim.  The  most  they  ever  did  was 
to  conquer  it. ...  And  when  they  have  conquered  their  kingdoms, 
what  do  they  do?  Do  they  attend  to  the  government?  Do  they 
promote  agriculture?  Do  they  practise  trades  and  industries? 
Not  a  bit  of  it.  Why  should  they  do  any  honest  work?  They 
find  it  easier  to  live  on  the  revenues  and  blast  with  thunderbolts 
the  people  who  do  not  pay.  They  are  conquering  chieftains, 
royal  buccaneers.  They  fight,  and  feast,  and  play,  and  make 
music;  they  drink  deep,  and  roar  with  laughter  at  the  lame  smith 
who  waits  on  them.  They  are  never  afraid,  except  of  their  own 
king.  They  never  tell  lies,  except  in  love  and  war." 

Homer's  human  heroes,  equally,  are  not  very  well  behaved. 
The  leading  family  is  the  House  of  Pelops,  but  it  did  not  succeed 
in  setting  a  pattern  of  happy  family  life. 

"Tantalos,  the  Asiatic  founder  of  the  dynasty,  began  its  career 
by  a  direct  offence  against  the  gods;  some  said,  by  trying  to 
cheat  them  into  eating  human  flesh,  that  of  his  own  son  Pelops. 
Pelops,  having  been  miraculously  restored  to  life,  offended  in 
his  turn.  He  won  his  famous  chariot-race  against  Oinomao*, 
kinp  of  Pisa,  by  the  connivance  of  the  latter 's  charioteer,  Myrtilos. 
and  then  got  rid  of  his  confederate,  whom  he  had  promised  to 
reward,  by  flinging  him  into  the  .sea.  The  curse  descended  to 
his  sons,  Atreus  and  Thyestes,  in  the  form  of  what  the  Greeks 
called  ate,  a  strong  if  not  actually  irresistible  impulse  to  crime. 
Thyestes  corrupted  his  brother's  wife  and  thereby  managed 
to  steal  the  'luck*  of  the  family,  the  famous  golden-fleeced  ram. 
Atreus  in  turn  secured  his  brother's  banishment,  and  recalling 
him  under  pretext  of  a  reconciliation,  feasted  him  on  the  flesh 
of  his  own  children.  The  curse  was  now  inherited  by  Atreus' 
son  Agamemnon,  who  offended  Artemis  by  killing  a  sacred  stag, 
sacrificed  his  own  daughter  Iphigcnia  to  appease  the  goddess 
and  obtain  a  safe  passage  to  Troy  for  his  fleet,  and  was  in  turn 
murdered  by  his  faithless  wife  Klytairnnestra  and  her  paramour 
Aigisthos,  a  surviving  son  of  Thyestes.  Orestes,  Agamemnon's  son, 
in  turn  avenped  his  father  by  killing  his  mother  and  Aigistlios."* 

1  Fn  c  Stages  of  Greek  Rtligitmt  p.  67. 

*  Primitive  Culture  in  Greece,  II.  J.  Rose,  1925,  p. 

3° 


THE   RISE   OF    GREEK   CIVILIZATION 

Homer  as  a  finished  achievement  was  a  product  of  Ionia,  i.e.  of 
a  part  of  Hellenic  Asia  Minor  and  the  adjacent  islands.  Some  time 
during  the  sixth  century  at  latest,  the  Homeric  poems  became 
fixed  in  their  present  form.  It  was  also  during  this  century  that 
Greek  science  and  philosophy  and  mathematics  began.  At  the 
same  time  events  of  fundamental  importance  were  happening 
in  other  parts  of  the  world.  Confucius,  Buddha,  and  Zoroaster, 
if  they  existed,  probably  belong  to  the  same  century.1  In  the 
middle  of  the  century  the  Persian  Empire  was  established  by 
Cyrus ;  towards  its  close  the  Greek  cities  of  Ionia,  to  which  the 
Persians  had  allowed  a  limited  autonomy,  made  a  fruitless  rebel- 
lion, which  was  put  down  by  Darius,  and  their  best  men  became 
exiles.  Several  of  the  philosophers  of  this  period  were  refugees, 
who  wandered  from  city  to  city  in  the  still  unenslaved  parts  of 
the  Hellenic  world,  spreading  the  civilization  that,  until  then, 
had  been  mainly  contincd  to  Ionia.  They  were  kindly  treated 
in  their  wanderings.  Xenophanes,  who  flourished  in  the  later 
part  of  the  sixth  century,  and  who  was  one  of  the  refugees,  says: 
"This  is  the  sort  of  thing  we  should  say  by  the  fireside  in  the 
winter-time,  as  we  lie  on  soft  couches,  after  a  good  meal,  drinking 
sweet  wine  and  crunching  chickpeas:  'Of  what  country  are  you, 
and  how  old  are  you,  good  Sir?  And  how  old  were  you  when  the 
Mede  appeared?1  "  The  re*»t  of  Greece  succeeded  in  preserving 
its  independence  at  the  battles  of  Salamis  and  Plataea,  after 
which  Ionia  was  liberated  for  a  time.1 

Greece  was  divided  into  a  large  number  of  small  independent 
states,  each  consisting  of  a  city  with  some  agricultural  territory 
surrounding  it.  The  level  of  civilization  was  very  different  in 
different  parts  of  the  Greek  world,  and  only  a  minority  of  cities 
contributed  to  the  total  of  Hellenic  achievement.  Sparta,  of  which 
1  shall  have  much  to  say  later,  was  important  in  a  military  sense, 
but  not  culturally.  Corinth  was  rich  and  prosperous,  a  great 
commercial  centre,  but  not  prolific  in  great  men. 

Then  there  were  purely  agricultural  rural  communities,  such 

1  Zoroaster's  date,  however,  is  very  conjectural.  Seine  place  it  as  early 
at>  1000  B.C.  Sec  Cambridge  Anritnt  History,  Vol.  IV,  p,  207. 

1  As  a  result  of  the  defeat  of  Athens  by  Sparta,  the  Persians  regained 
the  whole  coast  of  Asia  Minor,  to  which  their  right  was  acknowledged  in 
the  Peace  of  Antukidas  (387-6  ii.c.).  About  fifty  years  later,  they  were 
incorporated  in  Alexander's  empire. 

3' 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

as  the  proverbial  Arcadia,  which  townsmen  imagined  to  be 
idyllic,  but  which  really  was  full  of  ancient  barbaric  horrors. 

The  inhabitants  worshipped  Hermes  and  Pan,  and  had  a 
multitude  of  fertility  cults,  in  which,  often,  a  mere  square  pillar 
did  duty  in  place  of  a  statue  of  the  god.  The  goat  was  the  symbol 
of  fertility,  because  the  peasants  were  too  poor  to  possess  bulls. 
When  food  was  scarce,  the  statue  of  Pan  was  beaten.  (Similar 
things  are  still  done  in  remote  Chinese  villages.)  There  was  a  clan 
of  supposed  were-wolves,  associated,  probably,  with  human 
sacrifice  and  cannibalism.  It  was  thought  that  whoever  tasted  the 
flesh  of  a  sacrificed  human  victim  became  a  were-wolf.  There 
was  a  cave  sacred  to  Zeus  Lykaios  (the  wolf- Zeus);  in  this  cave 
no  one  had  a  shadow,  and  whoever  entered  it  died  within  a  year. 
All  this  superstition  was  still  flourishing  in  classical  times.1 

Pan,  whose  original  name  (some  say)  was  "Paon",  meaning  the 
feeder  or  shepherd,  acquired  his  better-known  title,  interpreted 
as  meaning  the  All-God,  when  his  worship  was  adopted  by 
Athens  in  the  fifth  century,  after  the  Persian  war.2 

There  was,  however,  in  ancient  Greece,  much  that  we  can  feel 
to  have  been  religion  as  we  understand  the  term.  This  was  con- 
nected, not  with  the  Olympians,  but  with  Dionysus,  or  Bacchus, 
whom  we  think  of  most  naturally  as  the  somewhat  disreputable- 
god  of  wine  and  drunkenness.  The  way  in  which,  out  of  his 
worship,  there  arose  a  profound  mysticism,  which  greatly  influ- 
enced many  of  the  philosophers,  and  even  had  a  part  in  shaping 
Christian  theology,  is  very  remarkable,  and  must  be  understood 
by  anyone  who  wishes  to  study  the  development  of  Greek 
thought. 

Dionysus,  or  Bacchus,  was  originally  a  Thracian  god.  The 
Thracians  were  very  much  less  civilized  than  the  G  reeks,  who 
regarded  them  as  barbarians.  Like  all  primitive  agriculturists, 
they  had  fertility  cults,  and  a  god  who  promoted  fertility.  His 
name  was  Bacchus.  It  was  never  quite  clear  whether  Bacchus 
had  the  shape  of  a  man  or  of  a  bull.  When  they  discovered  how 
to  make  beer,  they  thought  intoxication  divine,  and  gave  honour 
to  Bacchus.  When,  later,  they  came  to  know  the  vine  and  to  learn 
to  drink  wine,  they  thought  even  better  of  him*  His  functions  in 
promoting  fertility  in  general  became  somewhat  subordinate 

1  Rose,  Primitive  Greece,  p.  65  II. 

1  J.  £.  Harrison,  Prolegomena  to  the  Study  of  Greek  Helicon* p.  651 

3* 


THE   RISE   OF   GREEK   CIVILIZATION 

to  his  functions  in  relation  to  the  grape  and  the  divine  madness 
produced  by  wine. 

At  what  date  his  worship  migrated  from  Thrace  to  Greece  is 
not  known,  but  it  seems  to  have  been  just  before  the  beginning 
of  historical  times.  The  cult  of  Bacchus  was  met  with  hostility 
by  the  orthodox,  but  nevertheless  it  established  itself.  It  con- 
tained many  barbaric  elements,  such  as  tearing  wild  animals 
to  pieces  and  eating  the  whole  of  them  raw.  It  had  a  curious 
clement  of  feminism.  Respectable  matrons  and  maids,  in  large 
companies,  would  spend  whole  nights  on  the  bare  hills  in  dances 
which  stimulated  ecstasy,  and  in  an  intoxication  perhaps  partly 
alcoholic,  but  mainly  mystical.  Husbands  found  the  practice  an- 
noying, but  did  not  dare  to  oppose  religion.  Both  the  beauty  and 
the  savagery  of  the  cult  are  set  forth  in  the  Bacchae  of  Euripides. 

The  success  of  Dionysus  in  Greece  is  not  surprising.  Like  all 
communities  that  have  been  civilized  quickly,  the  Greeks,  or  at 
least  a  certain  proportion  of  them,  developed  a  love  of  the  primi- 
tive, and  a  hankering  after  a  more  instinctive  and  passionate 
way  of  life  than  that  sanctioned  by  current  morals.  To  the  man 
or  woman  who,  by  compulsion,  is  more  civilized  in  behaviour 
than  in  feeling,  rationality  is  irksome  and  virtue  is  felt  as  a  burden 
and  a  slavery.  This  leads  to  a  reaction  in  thought,  in  feeling,  and 
in  conduct.  Jt  is  the  reaction  in  thought  that  will  specially  concern 
us,  but  something  must  first  be  said  about  the  reaction  in  feeling 
and  conduct. 

The  civilized  man  is  distinguished  from  the  savage  mainly  by 
prudence,  or,  to  use  a  slightly  wider  term,  forethought.  He  is 
willing  to  endure  present  pains  for  the  sake  of  future  pleasures, 
even  if  the  future  pleasures  are  rather  distant.  This  habit  began  to 
be  important  with  the  rise  of  agriculture;  no  animal  and  no 
savage  would  work  in  the  spring  in  order  to  have  food  next 
winter,  except  for  a  few  purely  instinctive  forms  of  action,  such 
as  bees  making  honey  or  squirrels  burying  nuts.  In  these  cases, 
there  is  no  forethought;  there  is  a  direct  impulse  to  an  act  which, 
to  the  human  spectator,  is  obviously  going  to  prove  useful  later 
on.  True  forethought  only  arises  when  a  man  does  something 
towards  which  no  impulse  urges  him,  because  his  reason  tells 
him  that  he  will  profit  by  it  at  some  future  date.  Hunting  requires 
no  forethought*  because  it  is  pleasurable ;  but  tilling  the  soil  is 
labour,4md  cannot  be  done  from  spontaneous  impulse. 

uj  H'Mfcm  /»*****?  33  B 


WESTERN   PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

Civilization  checks  impulse  not  only  through  forethought, 
which  is  a  self-administered  check,  but  also  through  law,  custom , 
and  religion.  This  check  it  inherits  from  barbarism,  but  it  makes 
it  less  instinctive  and  more  systematic.  Certain  acts  arc  labelled 
criminal,  and  are  punished ;  certain  others,  though  not  punished 
by  law,  are  labelled  wicked,  and  expose  those  who  arc  guilty  of 
them  to  social  disapproval.  The  institution  of  private  property 
brings  with  it  the  subjection  of  women,  and  usually  the  creation 
of  a  slave  class.  On  the  one  hand  the  purposes  of  the  community 
are  enforced  upon  the  individual,  and,  on  the  other  hand  the 
individual,  having  acquired  the  habit  of  viewing  his  life  as  a 
whole,  increasingly  sacrifices  his  present  to  his  future. 

It  is  evident  that  this  process  can  be  carried  too  far,  as  it  is,  for 
instance,  by  the  miser.  But  without  going  to  such  extremes 
prudence  may  easily  involve  the  loss  of  some  of  the  best  things 
in  life.  The  worshipper  of  Dionysus  reacts  against  prudence.  In 
intoxication,  physical  or  spiritual,  he  recovers  an  intensity  of 
feeling  which  prudence  had  destroyed;  he  finds  the  world  full 
of  delight  and  beauty,  and  his  imagination  is  suddenly  liberated 
from  the  prison  of  every-day  preoccupations.  The  Bacchic 
ritual  produced  what  was  called  "enthusiasm,"  which  means, 
etymologically,  having  the  god  enter  into  the  worshipper,  who 
believed  that  he  became  one  with  the  god.  Much  of  what  is 
greatest  in  human  achievement  involves  some  element  of  intoxi- 
cation,1 some  sweeping  away  of  prudence  by  passion.  Without 
the  Bacchic  element,  life  would  be  uninteresting;  with  it,  it  is 
dangerous.  Prudence  versus  passion  is  a  conflict  that  runs  through 
history.  It  is  not  a  conflict  in  which  we  ought  to  side  wholly 
with  either  party. 

In  the  sphere  of  thought,  sober  civilization  is  roughly  synony- 
mous with  science.  But  science,  unadulterated,  is  not  satisfying; 
men  need  also  passion  and  art  and  religion.  Science  may  set 
limits  to  knowledge,  but  should  not  set  limits  to  imagination. 
Among  Greek  philosophers,  as  among  those  of  bter  times,  there 
were  those  who  were  primarily  scientific  and  those  who  were 
primarily  religious;  the  latter  owed  much,  directly  or  indirectly, 
to  the  religion  of  Bacchus.  This  applies  especially  to  Plato,  and 
through  him  to  those  later  developments  which  were  ultimately 
embodied  in  Christian  theology. 

1  I  mean  mental  intoxication,  not  intoxication  by  alcohol. 

34 


THE   RISE   OF    GREEK   CIVILIZATION 

The  worship  of  Dionysus  in  its  original  form  was  savage,  and 
in  many  ways  repulsive.  It  was  not  in  this  form  that  it  influenced 
the  philosophers,  but  in  the  spiritualized  form  attributed  to 
Orpheus,  which  was  ascetic,  and  substituted  mental  for  physical 
intoxication. 

Orpheus  is  a  dim  but  interesting  figure.  Some  hold  that  he  was 
an  actual  man,  others  that  he  was  a  god  or  an  imaginary  hero. 
Traditionally,  he  came  from  Thrace,  like  Bacchus,  but  it  seems 
more  probable  that  he  (or  the  movement  associated  with  his  name) 
came  from  Crete.  It  is  certain  that  Orphic  doctrines  contain 
much  that  seems  to  have  its  first  source  in  Egypt,  and  it  was 
chiefly  through  Crete  that  Egypt  influenced  Greece.  Orpheus  is 
said  to  have  l>een  a  reformer  who  was  torn  to  pieces  by  frenzied 
Maenads  actuated  by  Bacchic  orthodoxy.  His  addiction  to  music 
is  not  so  prominent  in  the  older  forms  of  the  legend  as  it  became 
later.  Primarily  he  was  a  priest  and  a  philosopher. 

Whatever  may  have  been  the  teaching  of  Orpheus  (if  he  existed), 
the  teaching  of  the  Orphics  is  well  known.  They  believed  in  the 
transmigration  of  souls;  they  taught  that  the  soul  hereafter 
might  achieve  eternal  bliss  or  suffer  eternal  or  temporary  torment 
according  to  its  way  of  life  here  on  earth.  They  aimed  at  becoming 
"pure,"  partly  by  ceremonies  of  purification,  partly  by  avoiding 
certain  kinds  of  contamination.  The  most  orthodox  among  them 
abstained  from  animal  food,  except  on  ritual  occasions  when 
they  ate  it  sacramentally.  Man,  they  held,  is  partly  of  earth, 
partly  of  heaven;  by  a  pure  life  the  heavenly  part  is  increased 
and  the  earthly  part  diminished.  In  the  end  a  man  may  become 
one  with  Bacchus,  and  is  called  **a  Bacchus."  There  was  an 
elaborate  theology,  according  to  which  Bacchus  was  twice  born, 
once  of  his  mother  Semele,  and  once  from  the  thigh  of  his  father 
Zeus. 

There  are  many  forms  of  the  Dionysus  myth.  In  one  of  them, 
Dionysus  is  the  son  of  Zeus  and  Persephone;  while  still  a  boy, 
he  is  torn  to  pieces  by  Titans,  who  eat  his  flesh,  all  but  the  heart. 
Some  say  that  the  heart  was  given  by  Zeus  to  Semele,  others 
that  Zeus  swallowed  it;  in  either  case,  it  gave  rise  to  the  second 
birth  of  Dionysus.  The  tearing  of  a  wild  animal  and  the  de- 
vouring of  its  raw  flesh  by  Bacchae  was  supposed  to  re-enact 
the  tearing  and  eating  of  Dionysus  by  the  Titans,  and  the  animal, 
in  some*  sense,  was  an  incarnation  of  the  god.  The  Titans  were 

35 


WESTERN   PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

earth-born,  but  after  eating  the  god  they  had  a  spark  of  divinity. 
So  man  is  partly  of  earth,  partly  divine,  and  Bacchic  rites  sought 
to  make  him  more  nearly  completely  divine. 

Euripides  puts  a  confession  into  the  mouth  of  an  Orphic  priest, 
which  is  instructive:1 

Lord  of  Europa's  Tynan  line, 

Zeus-born,  who  boldest  at  thy  feet 
The  hundred  citadels  of  Crete, 

I  seek  to  Thee  from  that  dim  shrine, 

Roofed  by  the  Quick  and  Can-en  Beam, 
By  Chalyb  steel  and  wild  bull's  blood. 
In  flawless  joints  of  Cypress  wood 

Made  steadfast.  There  is  one  pun-  stream 

My  days  have  run.  The  sen  ant  I, 
Initiate,  of  Idaean  Jove;2 
Where  midnight  Zagrcus8  rove?,  1  rove; 

I  have  endured  his  thunder-cry ; 

Fulfilled  his  red  and  bleeding  feasts ; 

Held  the  Great  Mother's  mountain  flame, 
I  am  set  free  and  named  by  name 

A  Bacchos  of  the  Mailed  Priests. 

Robed  in  pure  white  I  have  borne  me  clean 
From  man's  vile  birth  and  coihned  clay, 
And  exiled  from  my  lip  ahvay 

Touch  of  all  meat  where  Life  hath  been. 

Orphic  tablets  have  been  found  in  tombs,  giving  instructions  to 
the  soul  of  the  dead  person  as  to  how  to  find  his  way  in  the 
next  world,  and  what  to  say  in  order  to  prove  himself  \\orthy  of 
salvation.  They  are  broken  and  incomplete;  the  most  nearly 
complete  (the  Petelia  tablet)  is  as  follows: 

Thou  shalt  find  on  the  left  of  the  House  of  Hades  a  Well-spring, 
And  by  the  side  thereof  standing  a  white  cypress. 
To  this  well-spring  approach  not  near. 

1  The  verse  translations  in  thii  chapter  are   by   Profc-wor   Gilbert 
Murray. 

1  Mystically  idmtifad  with  Dionysu*, 
*  One  of  thr  many  narn*  *  of  I  )ionysu*. 

in 


THE   RISE   OF    GREEK   CIVILIZATION 

But  thou  shalt  find  another  by  the  Lake  of  Memory, 

Cold  water  flowing  forth,  and  there  are  Guardians  before  it, 

Say:  "I  am  a  child  of  Earth  and  of  Starry  Heaven; 

Hut  my  race  is  of  Heaven  (alone).  This  ye  know  yourselves. 

And  lo,  I  am  parched  with  thirst  and  I  perish.  Give  me  quickly 

The  cold  water  flowing  forth  from  the  Lake  of  Memory." 

And  of  themselves  they  will  give  thee  to  drink  from  the  holy 

well-spring, 
And  thereafter  among  the  other  heroes  thou  shalt  have  lordship. . . . 

Another  tablet  says: — "Hail,  Thou  who  hast  suffered  the  suffer- 
ing .  .  .  Thou  art  become  (Jod  from  Man."  And  yet  in  another: — 
"Happy  and  Blessed  One,  thou  shalt  be  God  instead  of  mortal." 

The  well-spring  of  which  the  soul  is  not  to  drink  is  Ix?the,  which 
brings  forgetfulness;  the  other  well-spring  is  Mnemosyne,  re- 
membrance. The  soul  in  the  next  world,  if  it  is  to  achieve  salva- 
tion, is  not  to  forget,  but,  on  the  contrary,  to  acquire  a  memory 
surpassing  what  is  natural. 

The  Orphics  were  an  ascetic  sect;  wine,  to  them,  was  only  a 
symbol,  as,  later,  in  the  Christian  sacrament.  The  intoxication  that 
they  sought  was  that  of  "enthusiasm,"  of  union  with  the  god.  They 
believed  themselves,  in  this  way,  to  acquire  mystic  knowledge  not 
obtainable  by  ordinary  means.  This  mystical  element  entered  into 
( Jreek  philosophy  with  Pythagoras,  who  was  a  reformer  of  Orphism 
as  Orpheus  was  a  reformer  of  the  religion  of  Dionysus.  From 
Pythagoras  Orphic  elements  entered  into  the  philosophy  of  Plato, 
and  from  Plato  into  most  later  philosophy  that  was  in  any  degree 
religious. 

Certain  definitely  Bacchic  elements  survived  wherever  Orphism 
had  influence.  One  of  these  was  frrrriism,  of  which  there  was 
much  in  Pythagoras,  and  which,  in  Plato,  went  so  far  as  to  claim 
complete  political  equality  for  women.  "Women  as  a  sex,"  says 
Pythagoras,  "are  more  naturally  akin  to  piety."  Another  Bacchic 
element  was  respect  for  violent  emotion.  Greek  tragedy  grew  out 
of  the  rites  of  Dionysus.  Euripides,  especially,  honoured  the  two 
chief  gods  of  Orphism,  Dionysus  and  Kros.  He  has  no  respect  for 
the  coldly  self-righteous  well-behaved  man,  who,  in  his  tragedies, 
is  apt  to  be  driven  mad  or  otherwise  brought  to  grief  by  the  gods 
in  resentment  of  his  blasphemy. 

'I 'he  conventional  tradition  concerning  the  Greeks  is  that  they 
exhibited  an  admirable  serenity,  which  enabled  them  to  contcm- 

37 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

plate  passion  from  without,  perceiving  whatever  beauty  it  exhibited 
but  themselves  calm  and  Olympian.  This  is  a  very  one-sided  view. 
It  is  true,  perhaps,  of  Homer,  Sophocles,  and  Aristotle,  but  it  is 
emphatically  not  true  of  those  Greeks  who  were  touched,  directly 
or  indirectly,  by  Bacchic  or  Orphic  influences.  At  Klcusis,  where 
the  Eleusinian  mysteries  formed  the  most  sacred  part  of  Athenian 
State  religion,  a  hymn  was  sung,  saying: 

With  Thy  wine-cup  waving  high, 
With  Thy  maddening  revelry, 
To  Klcusis'  flower}'  vale, 
Comest  Thou— Bacchus,  Paean,  hail! 

In  the  Bacchae  of  Euripides,  the  chorus  of  Maenads  displays  a 
combination  of  poetry  and  savagery  which  is  the  very  reverse  of 
serene.  They  celebrate  the  delight  in  tearing  a  wild  anirnal  limb 
from  limb,  and  eating  it  raw  then  and  there: 

O  glad,  glad  on  the  Mountains 
To  swoon  in  the  race  outworn, 
When  the  holy  fawn-skin  clings 

And  all  else  sweeps  away, 
To  the  joy  of  the  quick  red  fountains, 
The  blood  of  the  hill-goat  torn, 
The  glory  of  wild-beast  ravening* 

Where  the  hill-top  catches  the  day, 
To  the  Phrygian,  Lydian  mountains 
'Tis  ISromios  leads  the  way. 

(Bromios  was  another  of  the  many  names  of  Dionysus.)  The  dance 
of  the  Maenads  on  the  mountain  side  was  not  only  fierce;  it  was 
an  escape  from  the  burdens  and  cares  of  civilization  into  the  world 
of  non-human  beauty  and  the  freedom  of  wind  and  stars.  In  a  less 
frenzied  mood  they  sing: 

Will  they  ever  come  to  me,  ever  again, 

The  long,  long  dances, 
On  through  the  dark  till  the  dim  stars  wane  ? 
Shall  I  feel  the  dew  on  my  throat,  and  the  stream 
Of  wind  in  my  hair  ?  Shall  our  white  feet  gleam 

In  the  dim  expanses? 
O  feet  of  the  fawn  to  the  greenwood  fled, 

Alone  in  the  grass  and  the  loveliness ; 
[>eap  of  the  hunted,  no  more  in  dread, 

Beyond  the  snares  and  the  deadly  press. 


THE   RISE   OF    GREEK   CIVILIZATION 

Yet  a  voice  still  in  the  distance  sounds, 
A  voice  and  a  fear  and  a  haste  of  hounds, 
O  wildly  labouring,  fiercely  fleet, 

Onward  yet  by  river  and  glen — 
Is  it  joy  or  terror,  ye  storm-swift/eel? 

To  the  dear  lone  lands  untroubled  of  men, 
Where  no  voice  sounds,  and  amidfthe  shadowy  green 
The  little  things  of  the  woodland  (live  unseen. 

Before  repeating  that  the  Greeks  were  "serene,"  try  to  imagine 
the  matrons  of  Philadelphia  behaving  in  ti<js  manner,  even  in  a 
play  by  Eugene  O'Neill. 

The  Orphic  is  no  more  "serene"  than  tl»  unrefr  i«ed  woift 
shipper  of  Dionysus.  To  the  Orphic,  life  in  th*  world  is  pain  and 
weariness.  We  are  bound  to  a  J -heel  which  t^rns  through  endless 
cycles  of  birth  and  death;  our  true  life  is  tfhe  stars,  but  we  are 
tied  to  earth.  Only  by  purification  and  renunciation  and  an  ascetic 
life  can  we  escape  from  the  wheel  and  attain  at  last  to  the  ecstasy 
of  union  with  God.  This  is  not  the  view  of  men  to  whom  life  is 
easy  and  pleasant.  It  is  more  like  the  Negro  spiritual: 

I'm  going  to  tell  God  all  of  my  troubles 
When  I  get  home. 

Not  all  of  the  Greeks,  hut  a  large  proportion  of  them,  were 
passionate,  unhappy,  at  war  with  themselves,  driven  along  one 
road  by  the  intellect  and  along  another  by  the  passions,  with  the 
imagination  to  conceive  heaven  and  the  wilful  self-assertion  that 
creates  hell.  They  had  a  maxim  "nothing  too  much,"  but  they 
were  in  fact  excessive  in  everything — in  pure  thought,  in  poetry, 
in  religion,  and  in  sin.  It  was  the  combination  of  passion  and 
intellect  that  made  them  great,  while  they  were  great.  Neither 
alone  would  have  transformed  the  world  for  all  future  time  as 
they  transformed  it.  Their  prototype  in  mythology  is  not 
Olympian  Zeus,  but  Prometheus,  who  brought  fire  from  heaven 
and  was  rewarded  with  eternal  torment. 

If  taken  as  characterizing  the  Greeks  as  a  whole,  however,  what 
has  just  been  said  would  be  as  one-sided  as  the  view  that  the 
Greeks  were  characterized  by  "serenity."  There  were,  in  fact,  two 
tendencies  in  Greece,  one  passionate,  religious,  mystical,  other- 
worldly, the  other  cheerful,  empirical,  rationalistic,  and  interested 
in  acquiring  knowledge  of  a  diversity  of  facts.  Herodotus  represents 

39 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

this  latter  tendency;  so  do  the  earliest  Ionian  philosophers;  so, 
up  to  a  point,  does  Aristotle.  Beloch  (op.  cit.f  I,  i,  p.  434),  after 
describing  Orphism,  says: 

"But  the  Greek  nation  was  too  full  of  youthful  vigour  for  the 
general  acceptance  of  a  belief  which  denies  this  world  and  transfers 
real  life  to  the  Beyond.  Accordingly  the  Orphic  doctrine  remained 
confined  to  the  relatively  narrow  circle  of  the  initiate,  without 
acquiring  the  smallest  influence  on  the  State  religion,  not  even  in 
communities  which,  like  Athens,  had  taken  up  the  celebration  of 
the  mysteries  into  the  State  ritual  and  placed  it  under  legal  pro- 
tection. A  full  millennium  was  to  pass  before  these  ideas— in  a 
quite  different  theological  dress,  it  is  true — achieved  victory  in 
the  Greek  world/1 

It  would  seem  that  this  is  an  overstatement,  particularly  as 
regards  the  Eleusinian  mysteries,  which  were  impregnated  with 
Orphism.  Broadly  speaking,  those  who  were  of  a  religious  tem- 
perament turned  to  Orphism,  while  rationalists  despised  it.  One 
might  compare  its  status  to  that  of  Methodism  in  England  in  the 
late  eighteenth  and  early  nineteenth  centuries. 

We  know  more  or  less  what  an  educated  Greek  learnt  from  his 
father,  but  we  know  very  little  of  what,  in  his  earliest  years,  he 
learnt  from  his  mother,  who  was,  to  a  great  extent,  shut  out  from 
the  civilization  in  which  the  men  took  delight.  It  seems  probable 
that  educated  Athenians,  even  in  the  best  period,  however 
rationalistic  they  may  have  been  in  their  explicitly  conscious 
mental  processes,  retained  from  tradition  and  from  childhood  a 
more  primitive  way  of  thinking  and  feeling,  which  was  always 
liable  to  prove  victorious  in  times  of  stress.  For  this  reason,  no 
simple  analysis  of  the  Greek  outlook  is  likely  to  be  adequate. 

The  influence  of  religion,  more  particularly  of  non-Olympian 
religion,  on  Greek  thought  was  not  adequately  recognized  until 
recent  times.  A  revolutionary  book,  Jane  Harrison's  Prolegomena 
to  the  Study  of  Greek  Religion,  emphasized  both  the  primitive  and 
the  Dionysiac  elements  in  the  religion  of  ordinary  Greeks;  F.  M. 
Cornford's  From  Religion  to  Philosophy  tried  to  make  students  of 
Greek  philosophy  aware  of  the  influence  of  religion  on  the  philo- 
sophers, but  cannot  be  wholly  accepted  as  trustworthy  in  many 
of  its  interpretations,  or,  for  that  matter,  in  its  anthropology.1  The 

1  On  the  other  hand  Cornford's  books  on  various  Platonic  dialogues 
seem  to  me  wholly  admirable. 


THE   RISE   OF   GREEK   CIVILIZATION 

most  balanced  statement  known  to  me  is  in  John  Burnet's  Early 
Greek  Philosophy,  especially  chapter  ii,  "Science  and  Religion."  A 
conflict  between  science  and  religion  arose,  he  says,  out  of  "the 
religious  revival  which  swept  over  Hellas  in  the  sixth  century  B.C.," 
together  with  the  shifting  of  the  scene  from  Ionia  to  the  West. 
"The  religion  of  continental  Hellas,"  he  ssi^s,  "had  developed  in 
a  very  different  way  from  that  of  Ionia.  In  particular,  the  worship 
of  Dionysus,  which  came  from  Thrace,  and  is  barely  mentioned 
in  Homer,  contained  in  germ  a  wholly  new  way  of  looking  at  man's 
relation  to  the  world.  It  would  certainly  b&  wrong  to  credit  the 
Thracians  themselves  with  any  very  exalted  wews;  but  there  can 
be  no  doubt  that,  to  the  Greeks,  the  phenomenon  of  ecstasy 
suggested  that  the  soul  was  something  more  than  a  feeble  double 
of  the  self,  and  that  it  was  only  when  'out  of  the  body*  that  it 
could  show  its  true  nature.  .  .  . 

44 It  looked  as  if  Greek  religion  were  about  to  enter  on  the  same 
stage  as  that  already  reached  by  the  religions  of  the  East;  and,  but 
for  the  rise  of  science,  it  is  hard  to  see  what  could  have  checked 
this  tendency.  It  is  usual  to  say  that  the  Greeks  were  saved  from 
a  religion  of  the  Oriental  type  by  their  having  no  priesthood;  but 
this  is  to  mistake  the  effect  for  the  cause.  Priesthoods  do  not  make 
dogmas,  though  they  preserve  them  once  they  are  made;  and  in 
the  earlier  stages  of  their  development,  the  Oriental  peoples  had 
no  priesthoods  either  in  the  sense  intended.  It  was  not  so  much 
the  absence  of  a  priesthood  as  the  existence  of  the  scientific 
schools  that  saved  Greece. 

"The  new  religion— for  in  one  sense  it  was  new,  though  in 
another  as  old  as  mankind — reached  its  highest  point  of  develop- 
ment with  the  foundation  of  the  Orphic  communities.  So  far  as 
\ve  can  see,  the  original  home  of  these  was  Attica;  but  they  spread 
with  extraordinary  rapidity,  especially  in  Southern  Italy  and  Sicily. 
They  were  first  of  dl  associations  for  the  worship  of  Dionysus; 
but  they  were  distinguished  by  two  features  which  were  new 
among  the  Hellenes.  They  looked  to  a  revelation  as  the  source 
of  religious  authority,  and  they  were  organized  as  artificial  com- 
munities. The  poems  which  contained  their  theology  were 
ascribed  to  the  Thracian  Orpheus,  who  had  himself  descended 
into  Hades,  and  was  therefore  a  safe  guide  through  the  perils 
which  beset  the  disembodied  soul  in  the  next  world." 

Hurried  goes  on  to  state  that  there  is  a  striking  similarity  between 

4* 


WESTERN   PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

Orphic  beliefs  and  those  prevalent  in  India  at  about  the  same  time, 
though  he  holds  that  there  cannot  have  been  any  contact.  He  then 
comes  on  to  the  original  meaning  of  the  word  "orgy,"  which  was 
Mc*vUV  *.tiA  O*"hics  to  mean  "sacrament,"  and  was  intended  to 
general  acceptance  o*  Soul  and  enable  it  to  escape  from  the  wheel 
reallifetotheBeyond.es,  unlike  the  priests  of  Olympian  cults, 
confined  to  the  relatmcall  "churches/1  i.e.  religious  communities 
acquiring  the  smallest  ithout  distinction  of  race  or  sex,  could  be 
communities  which,  liHf  and  from  their  influence  arose  the  con- 
the  mysteries  into  th^  as  a  way  of  life. 
"    -    A  full  millc 
*+  ther 


Chapter  II 
THE    MILESIAN    SCHOOL 

IN  every  history  of  philosophy  for  studenftf,  the  first  thing  men- 
tioned is  that  philosophy  began  witWi  hales,  who  said  that 
everything  is  made  of  water.  Thi$  is  discouraging  to  the 
beginner,  who  is  struggling — perhaps  not  very  hard — to  feel  that 
respect  for  philosophy  which  the  curriculum  seems  to  expect. 
There  is,  however,  ample  reason  to  feel  respkct  for  Thales,  though 
perhaps  rather  as  a  man  of  science  than  as  11  nhiloson'  sitfrfws?* 
modern  sense  of  the  word. 

Thales  was  a  native  of  Miletus,  in  Asia  Minor,  a  flourishing 
commercial  city,  in  which  there  was  a  large  slave  population,  and 
a  bitter  class  struggle  between  the  rich  and  poor  among  the  free 
population.  "At  Miletus  the  people  were  at  first  victorious  and 
murdered  the  wives  and  children  of  the  aristocrats;  then  the 
aristocrats  prevailed  and  burned  their  opponents  alive,  lighting 
up  the  open  spaces  of  the  city  with  live  torches/'1  Similar  con- 
ditions prevailed  in  most  of  the  Greek  cities  of  Asia  Minor  at  the 
time  of  Thales. 

Miletus,  like  other  commercial  cities  of  Ionia,  underwent  im- 
portant economic  and  political  developments  during  the  seventh 
and  sixth  centuries.  At  first,  political  power  belonged  to  a  land- 
owning aristocracy,  but  this  was  gradually  replaced  by  a  pluto- 
cracy of  merchants.  They,  in  turn,  were  replaced  by  a  tyrant, 
who  (as  was  usual)  achieved  power  by  the  support  of  the  demo- 
cratic party.  The  kingdom  of  Lydia  lay  to  the  east  of  the  Greek 
coast  towns,  but  remained  on  friendly  terms  with  them  until  the 
fall  of  Nineveh  (6oO  B.C.).  This  left  Lydia  free  to  turn  its  attention 
to  the  West,  but  Miletus  usually  succeeded  in  preserving  friendly 
relations,  especially  with  Croesus,  the  last  Lydian  king,  who  was 
conquered  by  Cyrus  in  546  B.C.  There  were  also  important  rela- 
tions with  Egypt,  where  the  king  depended  upon  Greek  mer- 
cenaries, and  had  opened  certain  cities  to  Greek  trade.  The  first 
Greek  settlement  in  Egypt  was  a  fort  occupied  by  a  Milesian 
garrison;  but  the  most  important,  during  the  period  610-560  B.C., 
was  Daphnac.  Here  Jeremiah  and  many  other  Jewish  fugitives 
v,  History  of  the  Ancient  World,  Vol.  I,  p.  204. 

43 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL    THOUGHT 

took  refuge  from  Nebuchadrezzar  (Jeremiah  xliii.  5  If.);  but  while 
Egypt  undoubtedly  influenced  the  Greeks,  the  Jews  did  not,  nor 
can  we  suppose  that  Jeremiah  felt  anything  but  horror  towards 
the  sceptical  lonians. 

As  regards  the  u2te  of  Thales,  the  best  evidence,  as  we  saw,  is 
that  he  was  famous  for  predicting  an  eclipse  which,  according  to 
the  astronomers,  must  have  taken  place  in  585  B.C.  Other  evidence, 
such  as  it  is,  agrees  in  placing  his  activities  at  about  this  time.  It 
is  no  proof  of  extraordinaiT  genius  on  his  part  to  have  predicted 
an  eclipse.  Miletus  wao  allied  with  Lydia,  and  Lydia  had  cultural 
relations  with  Babylonia,  and  Babylonian  astronomers  had  dis- 
covered tV't  eclipses  recur  in  a  cycle  of  about  nineteen  years. 
They  could  predict  eclipses  of  the  moon  with  pretty  complete 
success,  but  as  regards  solar  eclipses  they  were  hampered  by  the 
fact  that  an  eclipse  may  be  visible  in  one  place  and  not  in  another. 
Consequently  they  could  only  know  that  at  such  and  such  a  date 
it  was  worth  while  to  look  out  for  an  eclipse,  and  this  is  probably 
all  that  Thales  knew.  Neither  he  nor  they  knew  why  there  is 
this  cycle. 

Thales  is  said  to  have  travelled  in  Kgypt,  and  to  have  thence 
brought  to  the  Greeks  the  science  of  geometry.  What  the  Egyptians 
knew  of  geometry  was  mainly  rules  of  thumb,  and  there  is  no 
reason  to  believe  that  Thales  arrived  at  deductive  proofs,  such  as 
later  Greeks  discovered.  He  seems  to  have  discovered  how  to 
calculate  the  distance  of  a  ship  at  sea  from  observations  taken  at 
two  points  on  land,  and  how  to  estimate  the  height  of  a  pyramid 
from  the  length  of  its  shadow.  Many  other  geometrical  theorem* 
are  attributed  to  him,  but  probably  wrongly. 

He  was  one  of  the  Seven  Wise  Men  of  Greece,  each  of  whom 
was  specially  noted  for  one  wise  saying;  his,  it  is  a  niiM.tke  to 
suppose,  was  "water  is  best." 

According  to  Aristotle,  he  thought  that  water  is  the  original 
substance,  out  of  which  all  others  are  funned ;  and  he  maintained 
that  the  earth  rests  on  water.  Aristotle  also  says  of  him  that  he 
said  the  magnet  has  a  soul  in  it,  because  it  moves  the  iron ;  further, 
that  all  things  arc  full  of  gods.1 

The  statement  that  everything  is  made  of  water  is  to  be  regarded 
as  a  scientific  hypothesis,  arid  by  no  means  a  foolish  one.  Twenty 
years  ago,  the  received  view  was  that  everything  is  made  of 

1  Burnct  (Early  Gteck  Philotophy,  p.  51)  questions  tins  last  *  tying. 

44 


THE    MILESIAN    SCHOOL 

hydrogen,  which  is  two  thirds  of  water.  The  Greeks  were  rash 
in  their  hypotheses,  but  the  Milesian  school,  at  least,  was  prepared 
to  test  them  empirically.  Too  little  is  known  of  Thales  to  make  it 
possible  to  reconstruct  him  at  all  satisfactorily,  but  of  his  successors 
in  Miletus  much  more  is  known,  and  it  is  re^n5^C5nTRM2flfe%^ 
that  something  of  their  outlook  came  from  Jround  table,  and  that 
his  philosophy  were  both  crude,  but  they  ifsoul,  being  air,  holds 
both  thought  and  observation.  /$ass  the  whole  world." 

There  are  many  legends  about  him,  'ft 

known  than  the  few  facts  I  have  mentidquity  than  Anaximander, 
are  pleasant,  for  instance,  the  one  told  by  like  the  opposite  valua- 
(1259*):  "lie  was  reproached  for  his  poverty, ^Koras  and  Sjyjftji0*1 
to  show  that  philosophy  is  of  no  use.  According  to  fKe  story,  he 
knew  by  his  skill  in  the  stars  while  it  was  yet  winter  that  there 
would  be  a  great  harvest  of  olives  in  the  corning  year;  so,  having 
a  little  money,  he  gave  deposits  for  the  use  of  all  the  olive-presses 
in  Chios  and  Miletus,  which  he  hired  at  a  low  price  because  no 
one  bid  against  him.  When  the  harvest  time  came,  and  many 
were  wanted  all  at  once  and  of  a  sudden,  he  let  them  out  at  any 
rate  which  he  pleased,  and  made  a  quantity  of  money.  Thus  he 
showed  the  world  that  philosophers  can  easily  be  rich  if  they  like, 
but  that  their  ambition  is  of  another  sort." 

Anaximander,  the  second  philosopher  of  the  Milesian  school, 
is  much  more  interesting  than  Thales.  His  dates  are  uncertain, 
but  he  was  said  to  have  been  sixty-four  years  old  in  546  B.C.,  and 
there  is  reason  to  suppose  that  this  is  somewhere  near  the  truth. 
He  held  that  all  things  come  from  a  single  primal  substance,  but 
that  it  is  not  water,  as  Thales  held,  or  any  other  of  the  substances 
that  we  know.  It  is  infinite,  eternal  and  ageless,  and  "it  encom- 
passes all  the  worlds" — for  he  thought  our  world  only  one  of 
many.  The  primal  substance  is  transformed  into  the  various  sub- 
stances witii  which  we  are  familiar,  and  these  are  transformed 
into  each  other.  As  to  this,  he  makes  an  important  and  remarkable 
statement : 

"Into  that  from  which  things  take  their  rise  they  pass  away  once 
more,  as  is  ordained,  for  they  make  reparation  and  satisfaction  to 
one  another  for  their  injustice  according  to  the  ordering  of  time." 

The  idea  of  justice,  both  cosmic  and  human,  played  a  part  in 
(irerk  religion  Und  philosophy  which  is  not  altogether  easy  for  a 
modern  to  understand ;  indeed  our  word  "justice"  hardly  expresses 

45 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

what  is  meant,  but  it  is  difficult  to  find  any  other  word  that  would 
be  preferable.  The  thought  which  Anaximander  is  expressing 
seems  to  be  this:  there  should  be  a  certain  proportion  of  fire,  of 
earth,  and  of  water  in  the  world,  but  each  element  (conceived  as  a 
^AsVegardslhe  <j£ttcmPting  to  enlarge  its  empire.  But  there  is 
that  he  was  famous  itPatu1ral  h*  whfich  Perpetually  redresses  the 
the  astronomers,  must  K*  been  fire,  for  example,  there  are  ashes, 
such  as  it  is,  agrees  in  pl:?cePtlon  of  justice-of  not  overstepping 
is  no  proof  of  extraordinaif. one  of  the  most  Profound  of  Greek 
an  eclipse.  Miletus  wao  "»ubJect  to  Justlce  Just  »  much  as  men 
relations  with  BabyJo*  Power  was  not  itself  personal,  and  was 

..    .  a  oUfr.i,.,,    ec|j     - 

Anaximander  had  an  argument  to  prove  that  the  primal  sub- 
stance could  not  be  water,  or  any  other  known  element.  If  one  of 
these  were  primal,  it  would  conquer  the  others.  Aristotle  reports 
him  as  saying  that  these  knovrn  elements  are  in  opposition  to  one 
another.  Air  is  cold,  water  is  moist,  and  fire  is  hot.  "And  therefore, 
if  any  one  of  them  were  infinite,  the  rest  would  have  ceased  to  be 
by  this  time."  The  primal  substance,  therefore,  must  be  neutral 
in  this  cosmic  strife. 

There  was  an  eternal  motion,  in  the  course  of  which  was 
brought  about  the  origin  of  die  worlds.  The  worlds  were  not 
created,  as  in  Jewish  or  Christian  theology,  but  evolved.  There 
was  evolution  also  in  the  animal  kingdom.  Living  creatures  arose 
from  the  moist  element  as  it  was  evaporated  by  the  sun.  Man, 
like  every  other  animal,  was  descended  from  fishes.  He  must  be 
derived  from  animals  of  a  different  sort,  because,  owing  to  his 
long  infancy,  he  could  not  have  survived,  originally,  as  he  is  now. 

Anaximander  was  full  of  scientific  curiosity.  I  !e  is  said  to  have 
been  the  first  man  who  made  a  map.  He  held  tliat  the  earth  is 
shaped  like  a  cylinder.  He  is  variously  reported  as  saying  the  sun 
is  as  large  as  the  earth,  or  twenty-seven  times  as  large,  or  twenty- 
eight  times  as  large. 

Wherever  he  is  original,  he  is  scientific  and  rationalistic. 

Anaximenes,  the  last  of  the  Milesian  triad,  is  not  quite  so 
interesting  as  Anaximander,  but  makes  some  important  advances. 
His  dates  are  very  uncertain.  He  was  certainly  subsequent  to 
Anaximander,  and  he  certainly  flourished  before  494  B.C.,  since 
in  that  year  Miletus  was  destroyed  by  the  Persians  in  the  course 
of  their  suppression  of  the  Ionian  revolt. 

46 


THE  MILESIAN   SCHOOL 

The  fundamental  substance,  he  said,  is  air.  The  soul  is  air;  fire 
is  rarefied  air;  when  condensed,  air  becomes  first  water,  then,  if 
further  condensed,  earth,  and  finally  stone.  This  theory  has  the 
merit  of  making  all  the  differences  between  different  substances 
quantitative,  depending  entirely  upon  the 

He  thought  that  the  earth  is  shaped  like  a  j  Ol  c??  and  t^at 
air  encompasses  everything:  "Just  as  oui|fPunc*  .  e*.  ^olds 
us  together,  so  do  breath  and  air  encope3TsOU^  '3el^g1  '  rM" 
It  seems  that  the  world  breathes.  |$ass  the  whole  wor  . 

Anaximenes  was  more  admired  in  ant*/  "mander, 

though  almost  any  modern  world  would  hfluity  than  Anaxi    yajua. 
tion.  He  had  an  important  influence  on  Pytfcte  ^  °PP°j?lQn  tnuch 
subsequent  speculation.  The  Pythagoreans Tdflporas  *?  oiat  the 
earth  is  spherical,  but  the  atomists  adhered  to  the  view  of  Anaxi- 
menes, that  it  is  shaped  like  a  disc. 

The  Milesian  school  is  important,,  not  for  what  it  achieved,  but 
for  what  it  attempted.  It  was  brought  into  existence  by  the  contact 
of  the  Greek  mind  with  Babylonia  and  Egypt.  Miletus  was  a  rich 
commercial  city,  in  which  primitive  prejudices  and  superstitions 
were  softened  by  intercourse  with  many  nations.  Ionia,  until  its 
subjugation  by  Darius  at  the  beginning  of  the  fifth  century,  was 
culturally  the  most  important  part  of  the  Hellenic  world.  It  was 
almost  untouched  by  the  religious  movement  connected  with 
Dionysus  and  Orpheus;  its  religion  was  Olympic,  but  seems  to 
have  been  not  taken  very  seriously.  The  speculations  of  Thales, 
Anaximander,  and  Anaximenes  are  to  be  regarded  as  scientific 
hypotheses,  and  seldom  show  any  undue  intrusion  of  anthropo- 
morphic desires  and  moral  ideas.  The  questions  they  asked  were 
good  questions,  and  their  vigour  inspired  subsequent  investigators. 

The  next  stage  in  Greek  philosophy,  which  is  associated  with 
the  Greek  cities  in  southern  Italy,  is  more  religious,  and,  in 
particular,  more  Orphic — in  some  ways  more  interesting,  admir- 
able in  achievement,  but  in  spirit  less  scientific  than  that  of  the 
Milesians. 


47 


Chapter  III 
PYTHAGORAS 

PYTHAGORAS,  whose  influence  in  ancient  and  modern  times 
is  my  subject  ins^his  chapter,  was  intellectually  one  of  the 
most  important  *J.sn  that  ever  lived,  both  when  he  was 
wise  and  when  he  was  .  mwise.  Mathematics,  in  the  sense  of 
demonstrative  deductive  argument,  begins  with  him,  and  in  him 
is  intimately  connected  with  a  peculiar  form  of  mysticism. 
The  influence  of  mathematics  on  philosophy,  partly  owing 
to  him,  has,  ever  since  his  time,  been  both  profound  and 
unfortunate. 

Let  us  begin  with  what  little  is  known  of  his  life.  He  was  a 
native  of  the  island  of  Samos,  and  flourished  about  532  B.C. 
Some  say  he  was  the  son  of  a  substantial  citizen  named  Mnesarchos, 
others  that  he  was  the  son  of  the  «?od  Apollo ;  I  leave  the  reader  to 
take  his  choice  between  these  alternatives.  In  his  time  Samos  was 
ruled  by  the  tyrant  Polycrates,  an  old  ruffian  who  became  im- 
mensely rich,  and  had  a  vast  navy. 

Samos  was  a  commercial  rival  of  Miletus;  its  traders  went  as 
far  afield  as  Tartessus  in  Spain,  which  was  famous  for  its  mines. 
Polycrates  became  tyrant  of  Samos  about  535  B.C.,  and  reigned 
until  515  B.C.  He  was  not  much  troubled  by  moral  scruples;  he 
got  rid  of  his  two  brothers,  who  were  at  first  associated  with  him 
in  the  tyranny,  and  he  used  his  navy  largely  for  piracy.  1  le  profited 
by  the  fact  that  Miletus  had  recently  submitted  to  Persia.  In  order 
to  obstruct  any  further  westward  expansion  of  the  Persians,  he 
allied  himself  with  Amasis,  king  of  Egypt.  But  when  Cambyses, 
king  of  Persia,  devoted  his  full  energies  to  the  conquest  of  Egypt, 
Polycrates  realized  that  he  was  likely  to  win,  and  changed  sides. 
He  sent  a  fleet,  composed  of  his  political  enemies,  to  attack  Egypt ; 
but  the  crews  mutinied  and  returned  to  Samos  to  attack  him. 
He  got  the  better  of  them,  however,  but  fell  at  last  by  a  treacherous 
appeal  to  his  avarice.  The  Persian  satrap  at  Sardes  represented 
that  he  intended  to  rebel  against  the  Great  King,  and  would  pay 
vast  sums  for  the  help  of  Polycrates,  who  went  to  the  mainland 
for  an  interview,  was  captured  and  crucified.  * 

Polycrates  was  a  patron  of  the  arts,  and  beautified  Samps  with 

48 


PYTHAGORAS 

remarkable  public  works.  Anacreon  was  his  court  poet.  Pythagoras, 
however,  disliked  his  government,  and  therefore  left  Samos.  It  is 
said,  and  is  not  improbable,  that  Pythagoras  visited  Egypt,  and 
learnt  much  of  his  wisdom  there;  however  that  may  be,  it  is 
certain  that  he  ultimately  established  himself  at  Croton,  in 
southern  Italy. 

The  Greek  cities  of  southern  Italy,  like  Samos  and  Miletus, 
were  rich  and  prosperous;  moreover  they  were  not  exposed  to 
danger  from  the  Persians.1  The  two  greatest  were  Sybaris  and 
Croton.  Sybaris  has  remained  proverbial  for  luxury;  its  popula- 
tion, in  its  greatest  days,  is  said  by  Diodorus  to  have  amounted  to 
300,000,  though  this  is  no  doubt  an  exaggeration.  Croton  was 
about  equal  in  sixc  to  Sybaris.  Both  cities  lived  by  importing 
Ionian  wares  into  Italy,  partly  for  consumption  in  that  country, 
partly  for  re-export  from  the  western  coast  to  Gaul  and  Spain. 
The  various  Greek  cities  of  Italy  fought  each  other  fiercely;  when 
Pythatroras  arrived  in  Croton,  it  had  just  been  defeated  by  Locri. 
Soon  after  his  arrival,  however,  Croton  was  completely  victorious 
in  a  war  against  Sybaris,  which  was  utterly  destroyed  (510  B.C.). 
Sybaris  had  been  closely  linked  in  commerce  with  Miletus.  Croton 
was  famous  for  medicine ;  a  certain  Democedes  of  Croton  became 
physician  to  Polycrates  and  then  to  Darius. 

At  t'roton  Pythagoras  founded  a  society  of  disciples,  which  for 
a  time  was  influential  in  that  city.  But  in  the  end  the  citizens 
turned  against  him,  and  he  moved  to  Metapontion  (also  in  southern 
Italy),  where  he  died.  He  soon  became  a  mythical  figure,  credited 
with  miracles  and  niapic  powers,  but  he  was  also  the  founder  of  a 
school  of  mathematicians."  Thus  two  opposing  traditions  disputed 
his  memory,  and  the  truth  is  hard  to  disentangle. 

l*ythagoras  is  one  of  the  most  interesting  and  puzzling  men  in 
history.  Not  only  are  the  traditions  concerning  him  an  almost 
inextricable  mixture  of  truth  and  falsehood,  but  even  in  their 
barest  and  least  disputable  form  they  present  us  with  a  very 
curious  psychology.  He  may  be  described,  briefly,  as  a  combina- 
tion of  Einstein  and  Mrs.  Eddy.  He  founded  a  religion,  of  which 

1  The  (irrck  cities  of  Sicily  were  in  danger  from  the  Carthaginians, 
but  in  Italy  this  danger  was  not  felt  to  be  imminent. 

*  Aristotle  ftays  of  him  that  he  "first  worked  at  mathematics  and 
arithmetic,  and  u&T\viirdH,  at  one  time,  condescended  to  the  wonder- 
working Qjroetised  by  I'herecydes." 

49 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL    THOUGHT 

The  changes  in  the  meanings  of  words  are  often  very  instructive. 
I  spoke  above  about  the  word  "orgy";  now  I  want  to  speak  about 
the  word  "theory."  This  was  originally  an  Orphic  word,  which 
Cornford  interprets  as  "passionate  sympathetic  contemplation." 
In  this  state,  he  says.  "The  spectator  is  identified  with  the  suffering 
Cod,  dies  in  his  death,  and  rises  again  in  his  new  birth."  For 
Pythagoras,  the  "passionate  sympathetic  contemplation"  was 
intellectual,  and  issued  in  mathematical  knowledge.  In  this  way, 
through  Pythagoreanism,  "theory"  gradually  acquired  its  modern 
meaning;  but  for  all  who  were  inspired  by  Pythagoras  it  retained 
an  element  of  ecstatic  revelation.  To  those  who  have  reluctantly 
learnt  a  little  mathematics  in  school  this  may  seem  strange;  but 
to  those  who  have  experienced  the  intoxicating  delight  of  sudden 
understanding  that  mathematics  gives,  from  time  to  time,  to  those 
who  love  it,  the  Pythagorean  view  will  seem  completely  natural 
<rven  if  untrue.  It  might  seem  that  the  empirical  philosopher  is 
the  slave  of  his  material,  but  that  the  pure  mathematician,  like 
the  musician,  is  a  free  creator  of  his  world  of  ordered  beauty. 

It  is  interesting  to  observe,  in  liurnct's  account  of  the  Pytha- 
gorean ethic,  the  opposition  to  modern  values.  In  connection  with 
a  football  match,  modern-minded  men  think  the  players  grander 
than  the  mere  spectators.  Similarly  as  regards  the  State:  they 
admire  more  the  politicians  who  are  the  contestants  in  the  jrame 
than  those  who  are  only  onlookers.  This  change  of  values  is  con- 
nected with  a  change  in  the  social  system — the  warrior,  the 
gentleman,  the  plutocrat,  and  the  dictator,  each  has  his  own 
standard  of  the  |?ood  and  the  true.  The  gentleman  has  had  a  lonj: 
inninps  in  philosophical  theory,  because  he  is  associated  with  the 
Greek  genius,  because  the  virtue  of  contemplation  acquired 
theological  endorsement,  and  because  the  ideal  of  disinterested 
truth  dignified  the  academic  life.  The  gentleman  is  to  be  defined 
as  one  of  a  society  of  equals  who  live  on  slave  labour,  or  at  any 
rate  upon  the  labour  of  men  whose  inferiority  is  unquestioned. 
It  should  be  observed  that  this  definition  includes  the  saint  and 
the  sage,  insofar  as  these  men's  lives  are  contemplative  rather 
than  active. 

Modern  definitions  of  truth,  such  as  those  of  pragmatism  and 
instrumentalism,  which  are  practical  rather  than  contemplative, 
are  inspired  by  industrialism  as  opposed  to  aristocracy. 

Whatever  may  be  thought  of  a  social  system  which  f  tolerates 

5* 


PYTHAGORAS 

slavery,  it  is  to  gentlemen  in  the  above  sense  that  we  owe  pure 
mathematics.  The  contemplative  ideal,  since  it  led  to  the  creation 
of  pure  mathematics,  was  the  source  of  a  useful  activity;  this 
increased  its  prestige,  and  gave  it  a  success  in  theology,  in 
ethics,  and  in  philosophy,  which  it  might  not  otherwise  have 
enjoyed. 

So  much  by  way  of  explanation  of  the  two  aspects  of  Pythagoras : 
as  religious  prophet  and  as  pure  mathematician.  In  both  respects 
he  was  immeasurably  influential,  and  the  two  were  not  so  separate 
as  they  seem  to  a  modern  mind. 

Most  sciences,  at  their  inception,  have  been  connected  with 
some  form  of  false  belief,  which  gave  them  a  fictitious  value. 
Astronomy  was  connected  with  astrology,  chemistry  with  alchemy. 
Mathematics  was  associated  with  a  more  refined  type  of  error. 
Mathematical  knowledge  appeared  to  be  certain,  exact,  and  appli- 
cable to  the  real  world;  moreover  it  was  obtained  by  mere  thinking, 
without  the  need  of  observation.  Consequently,  it  was  thought  to 
supply  an  ideal,  from  which  every-day  empirical  knowledge  fell 
short.  It  was  supposed,  on  the  basis  of  mathematics,  that  thought 
is  superior  to  sense,  intuition  to  observation.  If  the  world  of  sense 
does  not  fit  mathematics,  so  much  the  worse  for  the  world  of 
sense.  In  various  ways,  methods  of  approaching  nearer  to  the 
mathematician's  ideal  were  sought,  and  the  resulting  suggestions 
were  the  source  of  much  that  was  mistaken  in  metaphysics  and 
theory  of  knowledge.  This  form  of  philosophy  begins  with 
Pythagoras. 

Pythagoras,  as  everyone  knows,  said  that  "all  things  are 
numbers."  This  statement,  interpreted  in  a  modern  way,  is 
logically  nonsense,  but  what  he  meant  was  not  exactly  nonsense. 
1  le  discovered  the  importance  of  numbers  in  music,  and  the  con- 
nection which  he  established  between  music  and  arithmetic  sur- 
vives in  the  mathematical  terms  "harmonic  mean*'  and  "harmonic 
progression."  He  thought  of  numbers  as  shapes,  as  they  appear 
on  dice  or  playing  cards.  We  still  speak  of  squares  and  cubes  of 
numbers,  which  are  terms  that  we  owe  to  him.  He  also  spoke  of 
oblong  numbers,  triangular  numbers,  pyramidal  numbers,  and  so 
on.  These  were  the  numbers  of  pebbles  (or,  as  we  should  more 
naturally  say,  shot)  required  to  make  the  shapes  in  question.  He 
presumably  thotight  of  the  world  as  atomic,  and  of  bodies  as  built 
up  of  lyolcculcs  composed  of  atoms  arranged  in  various  shapes. 

53 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

In  this  way  he  hoped  to  make  arithmetic  the  fundamental  study 
in  physics  as  in  aesthetics. 

The  greatest  discovery  of  Pythagoras,  or  of  his  immediate  dis- 
ciples, was  the  proposition  about  right-angled  triangles,  that  the 
sum  of  the  squares  on  the  sides  adjoining  the  right  angle  is  equal 
to  the  square  on  the  remaining  side,  the  hypotenuse.  The  Egyptians 
had  known  that  a  triangle  whose  sides  are  3, 4,  5  has  a  right  angle, 
but  apparently  the  Greeks  were  the  first  to  observe  that  3a  -f  4'- 
=  52,  and,  acting  on  this  suggestion,  to  discover  a  proof  of  the 
general  proposition. 

Unfortunately  for  Pythaponis,  his  theorem  led  at  once  to  the 
discovery  of  incommcnsurables,  which  appeared  to  disprove  his 
whole  philosophy.  In  a  rijjht-angled  isosceles  triangle,  the  square 
on  the  hypotenuse  is  double  of  the  square  on  either  side.  Let  us 
suppose  each  side  an  inch  long ;  then  how  long  is  the  hypotenuse  ? 
Let  us  suppose  its  length  is  mfn  inches.  Then  w2/;i2  ~  2.  If  m 
and  n  have  a  common  factor,  divide  it  out,  then  either  tn  or  n 
must  be  odd.  Now  w2  =  2«2,  therefore  m8  is  even,  therefore  m  is 
even,  therefore  n  is  odd.  Suppose  m  -•-  2p.  Then  4/>2  =  2«2,  there- 
fore, »2  =  2/>2  and  therefore  ;/  is  even,  contra  hyp.  Therefore  no 
fraction  m'n  will  measure  the  hypotenuse.  The  above  proof  is 
substantially  that  in  Euclid,  Book  X.1 

This  argument  proved  that,  whatever  unit  of  length  we  may 
adopt,  there  are  lengths  which  bear  no  exact  numerical  relation 
to  the  unit,  in  the  sense  that  there  are  no  two  integers  iw,  «,  such 
that  m  times  the  length  in  question  is  n  times  the  unit.  This  con- 
vinced the  Greek  mathematicians  that  geometry  must  be  estab- 
lished independently  of  arithmetic.  There  are  passapcs  in  Plato's 
dialogues  which  prove  that  the  independent  treatment  of  geo- 
metry was  well  under  way  in  his  day;  it  is  perfected  in  Euclid. 
Euclid,  in  Book  II,  proves  geometrically  many  things  which  we 
should  naturally  prove  by  algebra,  such  as  (a  -{-  bf  -~~  a1  +  zah 
+  A2.  It  was  because  of  the  difficulty  about  incommensurable* 
that  he  considered  this  course  necessary.  The  same  applies  to  his 
treatment  of  proportion  in  Books  V  and  VJ.  The  whole  system 
is  logically  delightful,  and  anticipates  the  rigour  of  nineteenth- 
century  mathematicians.  So  long  as  no  adequate  arithmetical  theory 
of  incommensurable^  existed,  the  method  of  Euclid  was  the  Inrst 

*  But  not  by  Euclid.  See  Heath,  Gftek  Mathtirutlici.  The  above  proof 
was  probably  known  to  Plato. 

54 


PYTHAGORAS 

that  was  possible  in  geometry.  When  Descartes  introduced  co- 
ordinate geometry,  thereby  again  making  arithmetic  supreme,  he 
assumed  the  possibility  of  a  solution  of  the  problem  of  incom- 
mensurables,  though  in  his  day  no  such  solution  had  been 
found. 

The  influence  of  geometry  upon  philosophy  and  scientific 
method  has  been  profound.  Geometry,  as  established  by  the 
Greeks,  starts  with  axioms  which  are  (or  are  deemed  to  be)  self- 
evident,  and  proceeds,  by  deductive  reasoning,  to  arrive  at 
theorems  that  are  very  far  from  self-evident.  The  axioms  and 
theorems  arc  held  to  be  true  of  actual  space,  which  is  something 
given  in  experience.  It  thus  appeared  to  be  possible  to  discover 
things  about  the  actual  world  by  first  noticing  what  is  self-evident 
and  then  using  deduction.  This  view  influenced  Plato  and  Kant, 
and  most  of  the  intermediate  philosophers.  When  the  Declaration 
of  Independence  says  "we  hold  these  truths  to  be  self-evident," 
it  is  modelling  itself  on  Euclid.  The  eighteenth-century  doctrine 
of  natural  rights  is  a  search  for  Euclidean  axioms  in  politics.1 
The  form  of  Newton's  Principia,  in  spite  of  its  admittedly  empirical 
material,  is  entirely  dominated  by  Euclid.  Theology,  in  its  exact 
scholastic  forms,  takes  its  style  from  the  same  source.  Personal 
religion  is  derived  from  ecstasy,  theology  from  mathematics;  and 
both  arc  to  be  found  in  Pythagoras. 

Mathematics  is,  I  believe,  the  chief  source  of  the  belief  in 
eternal  and  exact  truth,  as  well  as  in  a  super-sensible  intelligible 
\\orld.  Geometry  deals  with  exact  circles,  but  no  sensible  object 
is  exactly  circular;  however  carefully  we  may  use  our  compasses, 
there  will  be  some  imperfections  and  irregularities.  This  suggests 
the  view  that  all  exact  reasoning  applies  to  ideal  as  opposed  to 
sensible  objects;  it  is  natural  to  go  further,  and  to  argue  that 
thought  is  nobler  than  sense,  and  the  objects  of  thought  more 
real  than  those  of  sense-perception.  Mystical  doctrines  as  to  the 
relation  of  time  to  eternity  are  also  reinforced  by  pure  mathe- 
matics, for  mathematical  objects,  such  as  numbers,  if  real  at  all, 
are  eternal  and  not  in  time.  Such  eternal  objects  can  be  conceived 
as  God's  thoughts.  Hence  Plato's  doctrine  that  God  is  a  geometer, 
and  Sir  James  Jeans'  belief  that  He  is  addicted  to  arithmetic. 
Rationalistic  as  opposed  to  apocalyptic  religion  has  been,  ever 

1  "Self-evident**  was  substituted  by  Franklin  for  Jefferson's  "sacred 
and  undeniable." 

55 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

since  Pythagoras,  and  notably  ever  since  Plato,  very  completely 
dominated  by  mathematics  and  mathematical  method. 

The  combination  of  mathematics  and  theology,  which  began 
with  Pythagoras,  characterized  religious  philosophy  in  Greece,  in 
the  Middle  Ages,  and  in  modern  times  down  to  Kant.  Orphism 
before  Pythagoras  was  analogous  to  Asiatic  mystery  religions.  But 
in  Plato,  St.  Augustine,  Thomas  Aquinas,  Descartes,  Spinoza, 
and  Leibniz  there  is  an  intimate  blending  of  religion  and  reasoning, 
of  moral  aspiration  with  logical  admiration  of  what  is  timeless, 
which  comes  from  Pythagoras,  and  distinguishes  the  intellec- 
tualized  theology  of  Europe  from  the  more  straightforward 
mysticism  of  Asia.  It  is  only  in  quite  recent  times  that  it  has  been 
possible  to  say  clearly  where  Pythagoras  was  wrong.  1  do  not 
know  of  any  other  man  who  has  been  as  influential  as  he  was  in 
the  sphere  of  thought.  I  say  this  because  what  appears  as  Platonism 
is,  when  analysed,  found  to  be  in  essence  Pythagoreanism.  The 
whole  conception  of  an  eternal  world,  revealed  to  the  intellect 
but  not  to  the  senses,  is  derived  from  him.  But  for  him,  Christians 
would  not  have  thought  of  Christ  as  the  Word;  but  for  him, 
theologians  would  not  have  sought  logical  proofs  of  Mod  and 
immortality.  But  in  him  all  this  is  still  implicit.  I  low  it  became 
explicit  will  appear  as  we  proceed. 


Chapter  IV 
HERACLITUb 

Two  opposite  attitudes  towards  the  Greeks  are  common 
at  the  present  day.  One,  which  was  practically  universal 
from  the  Renaissance  until  very  recent  times,  views  the 
Greeks  with  almost  superstitious  reverence,  as  the  inventors  of 
all  that  is  best,  and  as  men  of  superhuman  genius  whom  the 
moderns  cannot  hope  to  equal.  The  other  attitude,  inspired  by 
the  triumphs  of  science  and  by  an  optimistic  belief  in  progress, 
considers  the  authority  of  the  ancients  an  incubus,  and  maintains 
that  most  of  their  contributions  to  thought  are  now  best  forgotten. 
1  cannot  myself  take  either  of  these  extreme  views;  each,  I  should 
say,  is  partly  right  and  partly  wrong.  Before  entering  upon  any 
detail,  I  shall  try  to  say  what  sort  of  wisdom  we  can  still  derive 
from  the  study  of  Greek  thought. 

As  to  the  nature  and  structure  of  the  world,  various  hypotheses 
are  possible.  Progress  in  metaphysics,  so  far  as  it  has  existed,  has 
consisted  in  a  gradual  refinement  of  all  these  hypotheses,  a  develop- 
ment of  their  implications,  and  a  reformulation  of  each  to  meet 
the  objections  urged  by  adherents  of  rival  hypotheses.  To  learn 
to  conceive  the  universe  according  to  each  of  these  systems  is  an 
imaginative  delight  and  an  antidote  to  dogmatism.  Moreover, 
even  if  no  one  of  the  hypotheses  can  be  demonstrated,  there  is 
genuine  knowledge  in  the  discovery  of  what  is  involved  in  making 
each  of  them  consistent  with  itself  and  with  known  facts.  Now 
almost  all  the  hypotheses  that  have  dominated  modern  philo- 
sophy were  first  thought  of  by  the  Greeks;  their  imaginative 
inventiveness  in  abstract  matters  can  hardly  be  too  highly  praised. 
What  1  shall  have  to  say  about  the  Greeks  will  be  said  mainly 
from  this  point  of  view;  I  shall  regard  them  as  giving  birth  to 
theories  which  have  had  an  independent  life  and  growth,  and 
which,  though  at  first  somewhat  infantile,  have  proved  capable 
of  surviving  and  developing  throughout  more  than  two  thousand 
years. 

The  Greeks  contributed,  it  is  true,  something  else  which  proved 
of  more  permanent  value  to  abstract  thought:  they  discovered 
mathematics  and  the  art  of  deductive  reasoning.  Geometry,  in 

57 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

particular,  is  a  Greek  invention,  without  which  modern  science 
would  have  been  impossible.  But  in  connection  with  mathematics 
the  one-sidedness  of  the  Greek  genius  appears :  it  reasoned  deduc- 
tively from  what  appeared  self-evident,  not  inductively  from  what 
had  been  observed.  Its  amazing  successes  in  the  employment 
of  this  method  misled  not  only  the  ancient  world,  but  the  greater 
part  of  the  modern  world  also.  It  has  only  been  very  slowly  that 
scientific  method,  which  seeks  to  reach  principles  inductively 
from  observation  of  particular  facts,  has  replaced  the  Hellenic 
belief  in  deduction  from  luminous  axioms  derived  from  the  mind 
of  the  philosopher.  For  this  reason,  apart  from  others,  it  is  a 
mistake  to  treat  the  Greeks  with  superstitious  reverence.  Scientific 
method,  though  some  few  among  them  were  the  first  men  who 
had  an  inkling  of  it,  is,  on  the  whole,  alien  to  their  temper  of  mind, 
and  the  attempt  to  glorify  them  by  belittling  the  intellectual 
progress  of  the  last  four  centuries  has  a  cramping  effect  upon 
modern  thought. 

There  is,  however,  a  more  general  argument  against  reverence, 
whether  for  the  Greeks  or  for  anyone  else.  In  studying  a  philo- 
sopher, the  right  attitude  is  neither  reverence  nor  contempt,  but 
first  a  kind  of  hypothetical  sympathy,  until  it  is  possible  to  know 
what  it  feels  like  to  believe  in  his  theories,  and  only  then  a  revival 
of  the  critical  attitude,  which  should  resemble,  as  far  as  possible, 
the  state  of  mind  of  a  person  abandoning  opinions  which  hr  has 
hitherto  held.  Contempt  interferes  with  the  first  part  of  this 
process,  and  reverence  with  the  second.  Two  things  are  to  be 
remembered:  that  a  man  whose  opinions  and  theories  are  worth 
studying  may  be  presumed  to  have  had  some  intelligence,  but 
that  no  man  is  likely  to  have  arrived  at  complete  and  final  truth 
on  any  subject  whatever.  When  an  intelligent  man  expresses 
a  view  which  seems  to  us  obviously  absurd,  \ve  should  not  attempt 
to  prove  that  it  is  somehow  true,  but  we  should  try  to  understand 
how  it  ever  came  to  seem  true.  This  exercise  of  historical  and 
psychological  imagination  at  once  enlarges  the  scope  of  our 
thinking,  and  helps  us  to  realize  how  foolish  many  of  our  own 
cherished  prejudices  will  seem  to  an  age  which  has  a  different 
temper  of  mind. 

Between  Pythagoras  and  Heraclitus,  with  whom  we  shall  be 
concerned  in  this  chapter,  there  was  another  philosopher,  of  less  im- 
portance, namely  Xenophancs.  His  date  is  uncertain,  and  's  mainly 

58 


HERACLJTUS 

determined  by  the  fact  that  he  alludes  to  Pythagoras  and  Hera- 
clitus  alludes  to  him.  He  was  an  Ionian  by  birth,  but  lived  most 
of  his  life  in  southern  Italy.  He  believed  all  things  to  be  made 
out  of  earth  and  water.  As  regards  the  gods  he  was  a  very  emphatic 
free  thinker.  "Homer  and  Hesiod  have  ascribed  to  the  gods  all 
things  that  are  a  shame  and  a  disgrace  among  mortals,  stealings 
and  adulteries  and  deccivings  of  one  another.  .  .  .  Mortals  deem 
that  gods  are  begotten  as  they  are,  and  have  clothes  like  theirs, 
and  voice  and  form  .  .  .  yes,  and  if  oxen  and  horses  or  lions  had 
hands,  and  could  paint  with  their  hands,  and  produce  works  of 
art  as  men  do,  horses  would  paint  the  forms  of  gods  like  horses, 
and  oxen  like  oxen,  and  make  their  bodies  in  the  image  of  their 
several  kinds.  .  .  .  The  Ethiopians  make  their  gods  black  and 
snub-nosed ;  the  Thracians  say  theirs  have  blue  eyes  and  red  hair." 
He  believed  in  one  God,  unlike  men  in  form  and  thoupht,  who 
"without  toil  swayeth  all  things  by  the  force  of  his  mind."  Xeno- 
phanes  made  fun  of  the  Pythagorean  doctrine  of  transmigration. 
"Once,  they  say,  he  (Pythagoras)  was  passing  by  when  a  dog  was 
being  ill-treated.  *Stop,'  he  said,  'don't  hit  it!  It  is  the  soul  of 
a  friend !  I  knew  it  when  I  heard  its  voice/  "  He  believed  it 
impossible  to  ascertain  the  truth  in  matters  of  theology.  "The 
certain  truth  there  is  no  man  who  knows,  nor  ever  shall  be,  about 
the  pods  and  all  the  things  whereof  I  speak.  Yea,  even  if  a  man 
should  chance  to  say  something  utterly  right,  still  he  himself 
knows  it  not — there  is  nowhere  anything  but  guessing."1 

Xenophanes  has  his  place  in  the  succession  of  rationalists,  who 
were  opposed  to  the  mystical  tendencies  of  Pythagoras  and  others, 
but  as  an  independent  thinker  he  is  not  in  the  first  rank. 

The  doctrine  of  Pythagoras,  as  we  saw,  is  very  difficult  to 
disentangle  from  that  of  his  disciples,  and  although  Pythagoras 
himself  is  very  early,  the  influence  of  his  school  is  mainly  sub- 
sequent to  that  of  various  other  philosophers.  The  first  of  these 
to  invent  a  theory  which  is  still  influential  was  Heraclitus,  who 
flourished  about  500  B.C.  Of  his  life  very  little  is  known,  except 
that  he  was  an  aristocratic  citizen  of  Ephesus.  He  was  chiefly 
famous  in  antiquity  for  his  doctrine  that  everything  is  in  a  state 
of  flux,  but  this,  as  we  shall  see,  is  only  one  aspect  of  his  meta- 
physics. 

iieraciitus,  though  an  Ionian,  was  not  in  the  scientific  tradition 

*  (Juotnl  from  Kdwyn  itevan,  Stoic t  an d  Sceptics,  Oxford,  1913,  p.  121. 

59 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL    THOUGHT 

of  the  Milesians.1  He  was  a  mystic,  but  of  a  peculiar  kind.  He 
regarded  fire  as  the  fundamental  substance ;  everything,  like  flame 
in  a  fire,  is  born  by  the  death  of  something  else.  "Mortals  are 
immortals,  and  immortals  are  mortals,  the  one  living  the  other's 
death  and  dying  the  other's  life."  There  is  unity  in  the  world, 
but  it  is  a  unity  formed  by  the  combination  of  opposite?.  "All 
things  come  out  of  the  one,  and  the  one  out  of  all  things'1;  but 
the  many  have  less  reality  than  the  one,  which  is  God. 

From  what  survives  of  his  writings  he  does  not  appear  as  an 
amiable  character.  He  was  much  addicted  to  contempt,  and  was 
the  reverse  of  a  democrat.  Concerning  his  fellow-citizens,  he 
says:  "The  Kphesians  would  do  well  to  hane  themselves,  even- 
grown  man  of  them,  and  leave  the  city  to  beardless  lads;  for  they 
have  cast  out  Hermodorus,  the  best  man  among  them,  saying: 
'We  will  have  none  who  is  best  among  us;  if  there  be  any  such, 
let  him  be  so  elsewhere  and  among  others.'  "  He  speaks  ill  of 
all  his  eminent  predecessors,  with  a  single  exception.  "Homer 
should  be  turned  out  of  the  lists  and  whipped."  "Of  all  whose 
discourses  I  have  heard,  there  is  not  one  who  attains  to  under- 
standing that  wisdom  is  apart  from  all."  "The  learning  of  many 
things  teachelh  not  understanding,  else  would  it  have  taught 
Hesiod  and  Pythagoras,  and  again  Xenophanes  and  Hecataeus." 
"Pythagoras  .  .  .  claimed  for  his  own  wisdom  what  was  but  a 
knowledge  of  many  things  and  an  art  of  mischief."  The  one 
exception  to  his  condemnations  is  Tcutamus,  who  is  signalled 
out  as  "of  more  account  than  the  rest."  When  we  inquire  the 
reason  for  this  praise,  we  find  that  Tcutamus  said  "most  men 
are  bad." 

His  contempt  for  mankind  leads  him  to  think  that  only  force 
will  compel  them  to  act  for  their  own  good.  He  says:  "livery  beast 
is  driven  to  the  pasture  with  blows";  and  again:  "Asses  would 
rather  have  straw  than  gold." 

As  might  be  expected,  Heraclitus  believes  in  war.  "War,"  he 
says,  "is  the  father  of  all  and  the  king  of  all;  and  some  he  has 
made  gods  and  some  men,  some  bond  and  some  free."  Again: 
"Homer  was  wrong  in  saying:  *  Would  that  strife  might  perish 
from  among  gods  and  men!'  He  did  not  see  that  he  was  praying 
for  the  destruction  of  the  universe;  for,  if  his  prayer  were  heard, 

1  Comfofd,  op.  rit.  (p.  184),  ernphasixrs  this,  I  think  rightly.  Herat  liru» 
is  often  misunderstood  through  I>CWK  aasimilatrd  to  other  lonmns. 

60 


HERACLITUS 

all  things  would  pass  away."  And  yet  again:  "We  must  know 
that  war  is  common  to  all  and  strife  is  justice,  and  that  all  things 
come  into  being  and  pass  away  through  strife." 

His  ethic  is  a  kind  of  proud  asceticism,  very  similar  to  Nietzsche's, 
lie  regards  the  soul  as  a  mixture  of  fire  and  water,  the  fire  being 
noble  and  the  water  ignoble.  The  soul  that  has  most  fire  he 
calls  "dry."  "The  dry  soul  is  the  wisest  and  best."  "It  is  pleasure 
to  souls  to  become  moist."  "A  man,  when  he  gets  drunk,  is  led 
by  a  beardless  lad,  tripping,  knowing  not  where  he  steps,  having 
his  soul  moist."  "It  is  death  to  souls  to  become  water."  "It  is 
hard  to  fight  with  one's  heart's  desire.  Whatever  it  wishes  to 
get,  it  purchases  at  the  cost  of  soul."  "It  is  not  good  for  men  to 
get  all  that  they  wish  to  get."  One  may  say  that  Heraclitus  values 
power  obtained  through  self-mastery,  and  despises  the  passions 
that  distract  men  from  their  central  ambitions. 

The  attitude  of  Heraclitus  to  the  religions  of  his  time,  at  any 
rate  the  Bacchic  religion,  is  largely  hostile,  but  not  with  the 
hostility  of  a  scientific  rationalist.  He  has  his  own  religion,  and 
in  part  interprets  current  theology  to  fit  his  doctrine,  in  part 
rejects  it  with  considerable  scorn.  He  has  been  called  Bacchic 
(by  C'ornforti),  and  regarded  as  an  interpreter  of  the  mysteries 
(by  Pfieiderer).  I  do  not  think  the  relevant  fragments  bear  out 
this  view.  He  says,  for  example:  "The  mysteries  practised  among 
men  arc  unholy  mysteries/'  This  suggests  that  he  had  in  mind 
possible  mysteries  that  would  not  be  "unholy,"  but  would  be 
quite  different  from  those  that  existed.  He  would  have  been  a 
religious  reformer,  if  he  had  not  been  too  scornful  of  the  vulgar 
to  engage  in  propaganda. 

The  following  are  all  the  extant  sayings  of  Heraclitus  that  bear 
on  his  attitude  to  the  theology  of  his  day. 

The  Lord  whose  is  the  oracle  of  Delphi  neither  utters  nor  hides 
his  meaning,  but  shows  it  by  a  sign. 

And  the  Sibyl,  with  raving  lips  uttering  things  mirthless,  un- 
bedi/cnetl  and  unpei  fumed,  reaches  over  a  thousand  years  with 
her  \oice,  thanks  to  the  god  in  her. 

Souls  smell  in  Hades. 

(Jieater  deaths  win  greater  portions.  (Those  who  die  them 
become  gods.) 

Night-\valk(TS,*mairicians,  priests  of  Bacchus,  and  priestesses  of 
the  wine^val,  mystery-mongers. 

61 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

The  mysteries  practised  among  men  are  unholy  mysteries. 

And  they  pray  to  these  images,  as  if  one  were  to  talk  with  a 
man's  house,  knowing  not  what  gods  or  heroes  are. 

For  if  it  were  not  to  Dionysus  that  they  made  a  procession  and 
sang  the  shameful  phallic  hymn,  they  would  be  acting  most 
shamelessly.  But  Hades  is  the  same  as  Dionysus  in  whose  honour 
they  go  mad  and  keep  the  feast  of  the  wine-vat. 

They  vainly  purify  themselves  by  defiling  themselves  with 
blood,  just  as  if  one  who  had  stepped  into  the  mud  were  to  wash 
his  feet  in  mud.  Any  man  who  marked  him  doing  this,  would 
deem  him  mad. 

Heraclitus  believed  fire  to  be  the  primordial  element,  out  of 
which  everything  else  had  arisen.  Thales,  the  reader  will  remember, 
thought  everything  was  made  of  water;  Anaximenes  thought  air 
was  the  primitive  element;  Heraclitus  preferred  fire.  At  last 
Empedocles  suggested  a  statesmanlike  compromise  by  allowing 
four  elements,  earth,  air,  fire  and  water.  The  chemistry  of  the 
ancients  stopped  dead  at  this  point.  No  further  progress  was  made 
in  this  science  until  the  Mohammedan  alchemists  embarked 
upon  their  search  for  the  philosopher's  stone,  the  elixir  of  life, 
and  a  method  of  transmuting  base  metals  into  gold. 

The  metaphysics  of  Heraclitus  are  sufficiently  dynamic  to 
satisfy  the  most  hustling  of  moderns : 

"This  world,  which  is  the  same  for  all,  no  one  of  gods  or  men 
has  made;  but  it  was  ever,  is  now,  and  ever  shall  be  an  ever-living 
Fire,  with  measures  kindling  and  measures  going  out.*' 

"The  transformations  of  Fire  are,  first  of  all,  sea;  and  half  of 
the  sea  is  earth,  half  whirlwind." 

In  such  a  world,  perpetual  change  was  to  be  expected,  ami 
perpetual  change  was  what  Heraclitus  believed  in. 

He  had,  however,  another  doctrine  on  which  he  set  even  more 
store  than  on  the  perpetual  flux;  this  was  the  doctrine  of  the 
mingling  of  opposites.  "Men  do  not  know,"  he  says,  "how  what 
is  at  variance  agrees  with  itself.  It  is  an  attunement  of  opposite 
tensions,  like  that  of  the  bow  and  the  lyre."  His  belief  in  strife 
is  connected  with  this  theory,  for  in  strife  opposites  combine  to 
produce  a  motion  which  is  a  harmony.  There  is  a  unity  in  the 
world,  but  it  is  a  unity  resulting  from  diversity: 

"Couples  are  things  whole  and  things  not  whole,  what  is  drawn 
together  and  what  is  drawn  asunder,  the  harmonious  an^I  the  dis- 

62 


HERACLITUS 

cordant.  The  one  is  made  up  of  all  things,  and  all  things  issue 
from  the  one." 

Sometimes  he  speaks  as  if  the  unity  were  more  fundamental 
than  the  diversity : 

"Good  and  ill  are  one/1 

"To  God  all  things  are  fair  and  good  and  right,  but  men  hold 
some  things  wrong  and  some  right." 

"The  way  up  and  the  way  down  is  one  and  the  same." 

"God  is  day  and  night,  winter  and  summer,  war  and  peace, 
surfeit  and  hunger;  but  he  takes  various  shapes,  just  as  fire,  when 
it  is  mingled  with  spices,  is  named  according  to  the  savour  of  each." 

Nevertheless,  there  would  be  no  unity  if  there  were  not  opposites 
to  combine:  "it  is  the  opposite  which  is  good  for  us." 

This  doctrine  contains  the  germ  of  Hegel's  philosophy,  which 
proceeds  by  a  synthcsi/ing  of  opposites. 

The  metaphysics  of  Ileraclitus,  like  that  of  Anaximander,  is 
dominated  by  a  conception  of  cosmic  justice,  which  prevents  the 
strife  of  opposites  from  ever  issuing  in  the  complete  victory  of 
cither. 

"All  things  are  an  exchange  for  Fire,  and  Fire  for  all  things, 
even  as  wares  for  gold  and  gold  for  wares." 

"Fire  lives  the  death  of  air,  and  air  lives  the  death  of  fire;  water 
lives  the  death  of  earth,  earth  that  of  water." 

"The  sun  will  not  overstep  his  measures ;  if  he  does, the  Erinyes, 
the  handmaids  of  Justice,  will  find  him  out." 

"We  must  know  that  war  is  common  to  all,  and  strife  is  justice." 

Ileraclitus  repeatedly  speaks  of  "God"  as  distinct  from  "the 
gods."  "The  way  of  man  has  no  wisdom,  but  that  of  God  has.  .  .  . 
Man  is  called  a  baby  by  God,  even  as  a  child  by  a  man.  .  .  .  The 
wisest  man  is  an  ape  compared  to  God,  just  as  the  most  beautiful 
ape  is  ugly  compared  to  man." 

God,  no  doubt,  is  the  embodiment  of  cosmic  justice. 

The  doctrine  that  everything  is  in  a  state  of  flux  is  the  most 
famous  of  the  opinions  of  Ileraclitus, and  the  one  most  emphasized 
by  his  disciples,  as  described  in  Plato's  Theaetetus. 

"You  cannot  step  twice  into  the  same  river;  for  fresh  waters 
are  ever  flowing  in  upon  you."1 

"The  sun  is  ne^w  every  day." 

1  But  cf.  *'\Ve  step  and  do  not  step  into  the  same  rivers:  we  are,  and 
are  not/'  *• 

63 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

His  belief  in  universal  change  is  commonly  supposed  to  have 
been  expressed  in  the  phrase  "all  things  are  flowing/1  but  this  is 
probably  apocryphal,  like  Washington's  "Father,  I  cannot  tell  a 
lie"  and  Wellington's  "Up  Guards  and  at  'em."  His  words,  like 
those  of  all  the  philosophers  before  Plato,  are  only  known  through 
quotations,  largely  made  by  Plato  or  Aristotle  for  the  sake  of 
refutation.  When  one  thinks  what  would  become  of  any  modern 
philosopher  if  he  were  only  known  through  the  polemics  of  his 
rivals,  one  can  see  how  admirable  the  pre-Socratics  must  have 
been,  since  even  through  the  mist  of  malice  spread  by  their 
enemies  they  still  appear  great.  However  this  may  be,  Plato  and 
Aristotle  agree  that  Heraclitus  taught  that  "nothing  ever  is, 
everything  is  becoming"  (Plato),  and  that  "nothing  steadfastly  is" 
(Aristotle). 

I  shall  return  to  the  consideration  of  this  doctrine  in  connection 
with  Plato,  who  is  much  concerned  to  refute  it.  For  the  present,  I 
shall  not  investigate  what  philosophy  has  to  say  about  it,  but 
only  what  the  poets  have  felt  and  the  men  of  science  have  taught. 

The  search  for  something  permanent  is  one  of  the  deepest  of 
the  instincts  leading  men  to  philosophy.  It  is  derived,  no  doubt, 
from  love  of  home  and  desire  for  a  refuge  from  danger;  we  find, 
accordingly,  that  it  is  most  passionate  in  those  whose  lives  are 
most  exposed  to  catastrophe.  Religion  seeks  permanence  in  two 
forms,  God  and  immortality.  In  God  is  no  variableness  neither 
shadow  of  turning;  the  life  after  death  is  eternal  and  unchanging. 
The  cheerfulness  of  the  nineteenth  century  turned  men  against 
these  static  conceptions,  and  modern  liberal  theology  believes 
that  there  is  progress  in  heaven  and  evolution  in  the  Godhead. 
But  even  in  this  conception  there  is  something  permanent,  namely 
progress  itself  and  its  immanent  goal.  And  a  dose  of  disaster  is 
likely  to  bring  men's  hopes  back  to  their  older  super-terrestrial 
forms:  if  life  on  earth  is  despaired  of,  it  is  only  in  heaven  that 
peace  can  be  sought. 

The  poets  have  lamented  the  power  of  Time  to  sweep  away 
every  object  of  their  love. 

Time  doth  transfix  the  flourish  set  on  youth, 
And  delves  the  parallels  in  beauty  'a  brow, 
Feeds  on  the  rarities  of  nature's  trurn, 
And  nothing  stands  but  for  his  scythe  to  mow. 


HERACLITUS 

They  generally  add  that  their  own  verses  are  indestructible: 

And  yet  to  times  in  hope  my  verse  shall  stand. 
Praising  thy  worth,  despite  his  cruel  hand. 

But  this  is  only  a  conventional  literary  conceit. 

Philosophically  inclined  mystics,  unable  to  deny  that  whatever 
is  in  time  is  transitory,  have  invented  a  conception  of  eternity  as 
not  persistence  through  endless  time,  but  existence  outside  the 
whole  temporal  process.  Eternal  life,  according  to  some  theologians, 
for  example,  Dean  Inge,  does  not  mean  existence  throughout 
every  moment  of  future  time,  but  a  mode  of  being  wholly  inde- 
pendent of  time,  in  which  there  is  no  before  and  after,  and  there- 
fore no  logical  possibility  of  change.  This  view  has  been  poetically 
expressed  by  Vaughan : 

I  saw  Eternity  the  other  night, 
Like  a  great  ring  of  pure  and  endless  light, 

All  calm,  as  it  was  bright; 
And  round  beneath  it,  Time  in  hours,  days,  years, 

Driven  by  the  spheres 
Like  a  vast  shadow  moved ;  in  which  the  world 

And  all  her  train  were  hurled. 

Several  of  the  most  famous  systems  of  philosophy  have  tried 
to  state  this  conception  in  sober  prose,  as  expressing  what  reason, 
patiently  pursued,  will  ultimately  compel  us  to  believe. 

Heraclitus  himself,  for  all  his  belief  in  change,  allowed  something 
everlasting.  The  conception  of  eternity  (as  opposed  to  endless 
duration),  which  comes  from  Parmenides,  is  not  to  be  found  in 
Heraclitus,  but  in  his  philosophy  the  central  fire  never  dies:  the 
world  "was  ever,  is  now,  and  ever  shall  be,  an  ever-living  Fire/' 
But  fire  is  something  continually  changing,  and  its  permanence  is 
rather  that  of  a  process  than  that  of  a  substance — though  this  view 
should  not  be  attributed  to  Heraclitus. 

Science,  like  philosophy,  has  sought  to  escape  from  the  doctrine 
of  perpetual  flux  by  finding  some  permanent  substratum  amid 
changing  phenomena.  Chemistry  seemed  to  satisfy  this  desire.  It 
was  found  that  fire,  which  appears  to  destroy,  only  transmutes: 
elements  are  recombined,  but  each  atom  that  existed  before  com- 
bustion still  exists  when  the  process  is  completed.  Accordingly  it 
was  supposed  that  atoms  arc  indestructible,  and  that  all  change 
in  the  physical  world  consists  merely  in  re-arrangement  of  per- 

65  C 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

sistent  elements.  This  view  prevailed  until  the  discovery  of  radio- 
activity, when  it  was  found  that  atoms  could  disintegrate. 

Nothing  daunted,  the  physicists  invented  new  and  smaller  units 
called  electrons  and  protons,  out  of  which  atoms  were  composed ; 
and  these  units  were  supposed,  for  a  few  years,  to  have  the  in- 
destructibility formerly  attributed  to  atoms.  Unfortunately  it 
seemed  that  protons  and  electrons  could  meet  and  explode, 
forming,  not  new  matter,  but  a  wave  of  energy  spreading  through 
the  universe  with  the  velocity  of  light.  Energy  had  to  replace 
matter  as  what  is  permanent.  But  energy,  unlike  matter,  is  not  a 
refinement  of  the  common-sense  notion  of  a  "thing";  it  is  merely 
a  characteristic  of  physical  processes.  It  might  be  fancifully 
identified  with  the  Heraclitean  Fire,  but  it  is  the  burning,  not 
what  burns.  "What  burns"  has  disappeared  from  modern  physics. 

Passing  from  the  small  to  the  large,  astronomy  no  longer  allows 
us  to  regard  the  heavenly  bodies  as  everlasting.  The  planets  came 
out  of  the  sun,  and  the  sun  came  out  of  a  nebula.  It  has  lasted 
some  time,  and  will  last  some  time  longer;  but  sooner  or  later — 
probably  in  about  a  million  million  years — it  will  explode,  destroy- 
ing all  the  planets.  So  at  least  the  astronomers  say;  perhaps  as 
the  fatal  day  draws  nearer  they  will  find  some  mistake  in  their 
calculations. 

The  doctrine  of  the  perpetual  flux,  as  taught  by  Heraclitus,  is 
painful,  and  science,  as  we  have  seen,  can  do  nothing  to  refute  it. 
One  of  the  main  ambitions  of  philosophers  has  been  to  revive 
hopes  that  science  seemed  to  have  killed.  Philosophers,  accordingly, 
have  sought,  with  great  persistence,  for  something  not  subject  to 
the  empire  of  Time.  This  search  begins  with  Parmenidcs. 


Chapter  V 
PARMENIDES 

THE  Greeks  were  not  addicted  to  moderation,  cither  in 
their  theories  or  in  their  practice.  Heraclitus  maintained 
that  everything  changes;  Parmenides  retorted  that  nothing 
changes. 

Parmenides  was  a  native  of  Elea,  in  the  south  of  Italy,  and 
flourished  in  the  first  half  of  the  fifth  century  B.C.  According  to 
Plato,  Socrates  in  his  youth  (say  about  the  year  450  B.C.)  had  an 
interview  with  Parmenides,  then  an  old  man,  and  learnt  much 
from  him.  Whether  or  not  this  interview  is  historical,  we  may  at 
least  infer,  what  is  otherwise  evident,  that  Plato  himself  was 
influenced  by  the  doctrines  of  Parmenides.  The  south  Italian  and 
Sicilian  philosophers  were  more  inclined  to  mysticism  and  religion 
than  those  of  Ionia,  who  were  on  the  whole  scientific  and  sceptical 
in  their  tendencies.  But  mathematics,  under  the  influence  of 
Pythagoras,  flourished  more  in  Magna  Graecia  than  in  Ionia; 
mathematics  at  that  time,  however,  was  entangled  with  mysticism. 
Parmenides  was  influenced  by  Pythagoras,  but  the  extent  of  this 
influence  is  conjectural.  What  makes  Parmenides  historically 
important  is  that  he  invented  a  form  of  metaphysical  argument 
that,  in  one  form  or  another,  is  to  be  found  in  most  subsequent 
metaphysicians  down  to  and  including  Hegel.  He  is  often  said  to 
liave  invented  logic,  but  what  he  really  invented  was  metaphysics 
based  on  logic. 

The  doctrine  of  Parmenides  was  set  forth  in  a  poem  On  Nature. 
He  considered  the  senses  deceptive,  and  condemned  the  multitude 
of  sensible  things  as  mere  illusion.  The  only  true  being  is  "the 
One/'  which  is  infinite  and  indivisible.  It  is  not,  as  in  Heraclitus, 
a  union  of  opposites,  since  there  are  no  opposites.  He  apparently 
thought,  for  instance,  that  "cold"  means  only  "not  hot,"  and 
"dark"  means  only  "not  light."  "The  One"  is  not  conceived  by 
Parmenides  as  we  conceive  God ;  he  seems  to  think  of  it  as  material 
and  extended,  for  he  speaks  of  it  as  a  sphere.  But  it  cannot  be 
divided,  because  the  whole  of  it  is  present  everywhere. 

Parmenides  dk'ides  his  teaching  into  two  parts,  called  respec- 
tively "the  way  of  truth"  and  "the  way  of  opinion."  We  need  not 

67 


WESTERN   PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

sistent  elements.  This  view  prevailed  until  the  discovery  of  radio- 
activity, when  it  was  found  that  atoms  could  disintegrate. 

Nothing  daunted,  the  physicists  invented  new  and  smaller  units, 
called  electrons  and  protons,  out  of  which  atoms  were  composed ; 
and  these  units  were  supposed,  for  a  few  years,  to  have  die  in- 
destructibility formerly  attributed  to  atoms.  Unfortunately  it 
seemed  that  protons  and  electrons  could  meet  and  explode, 
forming,  not  new  matter,  but  a  wave  of  energy  spreading  through 
the  universe  with  the  velocity  of  light.  Energy  had  to  replace 
matter  as  what  is  permanent.  But  energy,  unlike  matter,  is  not  a 
refinement  of  the  common-sense  notion  of  a  "thing";  it  is  merely 
a  characteristic  of  physical  processes.  It  might  be  fancifully 
identified  with  the  Heraclitean  Fire,  but  it  is  the  burning,  not 
what  burns.  "What  burns"  has  disappeared  from  modern  physics. 

Passing  from  the  small  to  the  large,  astronomy  no  longer  allows 
us  to  regard  the  heavenly  bodies  as  everlasting.  The  planets  came 
out  of  the  sun,  and  the  sun  came  out  of  a  nebula.  It  has  lasted 
some  time,  and  will  last  some  time  longer;  but  sooner  or  later — 
probably  in  about  a  million  million  years — it  will  explode,  destroy- 
ing all  the  planets.  So  at  least  the  astronomers  say;  perhaps  as 
the  fatal  day  draws  nearer  they  will  find  some  mistake  in  their 
calculations. 

The  doctrine  of  the  perpetual  flux,  as  taught  by  Heraclitus,  is 
painful,  and  science,  as  we  have  seen,  can  do  nothing  to  refute  it. 
One  of  the  main  ambitions  of  philosophers  has  been  to  revive 
hopes  that  science  seemed  to  have  killed.  Philosophers,  accordingly, 
have  sought,  with  great  persistence,  for  something  not  subject  to 
the  empire  of  Time.  This  search  begins  with  Parmenides. 


66 


Chapter  V 
PARMENIDES 

THE  Greeks   were   not   addicted   to  moderation,  either  in 
their  theories  or  in  their  practice.  Heraclitus  maintained 
that  everything  clianges;  Parmenides  retorted  that  nothing 
changes. 

Parmenides  was  a  native  of  Elea,  in  the  south  of  Italy,  and 
flourished  in  the  first  half  of  the  fifth  century  B.C.  According  to 
Plato,  Socrates  in  his  youth  (say  about  the  year  450  B.C.)  had  an 
interview  with  Parmenides,  then  an  old  man,  and  learnt  much 
from  him.  Whether  or  not  this  interview  is  historical,  we  may  at 
least  infer,  what  is  otherwise  evident,  that  Plato  himself  was 
influenced  by  the  doctrines  of  Parmenides.  The  south  Italian  and 
Sicilian  philosophers  were  more  inclined  to  mysticism  and  religion 
than  those  of  Ionia,  who  were  on  the  whole  scientific  and  sceptical 
in  their  tendencies.  But  mathematics,  under  the  influence  of 
Pythagoras,  flourished  more  in  Magna  Graecia  than  in  Ionia; 
mathematics  at  that  time,  however,  was  entangled  with  mysticism. 
Parmenides  was  influenced  by  Pythagoras,  but  the  extent  of  this 
influence  is  conjectural.  What  makes  Parmenides  historically 
important  is  that  he  invented  a  form  of  metaphysical  argument 
that,  in  one  form  or  another,  is  to  be  found  in  most  subsequent 
metaphysicians  down  to  and  including  Hegel.  He  is  often  said  to 
have  invented  logic,  but  what  he  really  invented  was  metaphysics 
based  on  logic. 

The  doctrine  of  Parmenides  was  set  forth  in  a  poem  On  Nature, 
lie  considered  the  senses  deceptive,  and  condemned  the  multitude 
of  sensible  things  as  mere  illusion.  The  only  true  being  is  "the 
One,1'  which  is  infinite  and  indivisible.  It  is  not,  as  in  Heraclitus, 
a  union  of  opposites,  since  there  are  no  opposites.  He  apparently 
thought,  for  instance,  that  "cold"  means  only  "not  hot,"  and 
"dark"  means  only  "not  light."  "The  One"  is  not  conceived  by 
Parmenides  as  we  conceive  God ;  he  seems  to  think  of  it  as  material 
and  extended,  for  he  speaks  of  it  as  a  sphere.  But  it  cannot  be 
divided,  because  the  whole  of  it  is  present  everywhere. 

Parmenides  divides  his  teaching  into  two  parts,  called  respec- 
tively "the  way  of  truth19  and  "the  way  of  opinion."  We  need  not 

6? 


WESTERN   PHILOSOPHICAL  THOUGHT 

concern  ourselves  with  the  latter.  What  he  says  about  the  way  of 
truth,  so  far  as  it  has  survived,  is,  in  its  essential  points,  as 
follows: 

"Thou  canst  not  know  what  is  not — that  is  impossible — nor 
utter  it;  for  it  is  the  same  thing  that  can  be  thought  and  that 
can  be." 

"How,  then,  can  what  is  be  going  to  be  in  the  future?  Or  how 
could  it  come  into  being?  If  it  came  into  being,  it  is  not;  nor  is  it 
if  it  is  going  to  be  in  the  future.  Thus  is  becoming  extinguished  and 
passing  away  not  to  be  heard  of. 

"The  thing  that  can  be  thought  and  that  for  the  sake  of  which 
the  thought  exists  is  the  same ;  for  you  cannot  find  thought  without 
something  that  is,  as  to  which  it  is  uttered."1 

The  essence  of  this  argument  is:  When  you  think,  you  think  of 
something;  when  you  use  a  name,  it  must  be  the  name  of  some- 
thing. Therefore  both  thought  and  language  require  objects  out- 
side themselves.  And  since  you  can  think  of  a  thing  or  speak  of  it 
at  one  time  as  well  as  at  another,  whatever  can  be  thought  of  or 
spoken  of  must  exist  at  all  times.  Consequently  there  can  be  no 
change,  since  change  consists  in  things  coming  into  being  or 
ceasing  to  be. 

This  is  the  first  example  in  philosophy  of  an  argument  from 
thought  and  language  to  the  world  at  large.  It  cannot  of  course 
be  accepted  as  valid,  but  it  is  worth  while  to  see  what  element  of 
truth  it  contains. 

We  can  put  the  argument  in  this  way:  if  language  is  not  just 
nonsense,  words  must  mean  something,  and  in  general  they  must 
not  mean  just  other  words,  but  something  that  is  there  whether 
we  talk  of  it  or  not.  Suppose,  for  example,  that  you  talk  of  George 
Washington.  Unless  there  were  a  historical  person  who  had  that 
name,  the  name  (it  would  seem)  would  be  meaningless,  and 
sentences  containing  the  name  would  be  nonsense.  Parmenides 
maintains  that  not  only  must  George  Washington  have  existed  in 
the  past,  but  in  some  sense  he  must  still  exist,  since  we  can  still 
use  his  name  significantly.  This  seems  obviously  untrue,  but 
how  are  we  to  get  round  the  argument  ? 
Let  us  take  an  imaginary  person,  say  Hamlet.  Consider  the 

1  Burnet'i  note :  "The  meaning,  I  think,  it  this.  4  .  .  There  can  be 
no  thought  corresponding  to  a  name  that  i»  not  the  name  of  something 
real."  ' 

68 


PARMENIDES 

statement  "Hamlet  was  Prince  of  Denmark."  In  some  sense  this 
is  true,  but  not  in  the  plain  historical  sense.  The  true  statement  is 
"Shakespeare  says  that  Hamlet  was  Prince  of  Denmark,"  or,  more 
explicitly,  "Shakespeare  says  there  was  a  Princ'e  of  Denmark 
called  'Hamlet.'  "  Here  there  is  no  longer  anything  imaginary. 
Shakespeare  and  Denmark  and  the  noise  "Hamlet"  are  all  real, 
but  the  noise  "Hamlet"  is  not  really  a  name,  since  nobody  is  really 
called  "Hamlet."  If  you  say  "  'Hamlet*  is  the  name  of  an  imaginary 
person,"  that  is  not  strictly  correct;  you  ought  to  say  "It  is  ima- 
gined that  'Hamlet'  is  the  name  of  a  real  person." 

Hamlet  is  an  imagined  individual;  unicorns  are  an  imagined 
species.  Some  sentences  in  which  the  word  "unicorn"  occurs  are 
true,  and  some  are  false,  but  in  each  case  not  directly.  Consider 
"a  unicorn  has  one  horn"  and  "a  cow  has  two  horns."  To  prove 
the  latter,  you  have  to  lopk  at  a  cow ;  it  is  not  enough  to  say  that 
in  some  book  cows  are  said  to  have  two  horns.  But  the  evidence 
that  unicorns  have  one  horn  is  only  to  be  found  in  books,  and  in 
fact  the  correct  statement  is:  "Certain  books  assert  that  there  are 
animals  with  one  horn  called  'unicorns/  "  All  statements  about 
unicorns  are  really  about  the  word  "unicorn,"  just  as  all  statements 
about  Hamlet  are  really  about  the  word  "Hamlet." 

But  it  is  obvious  that,  in  most  cases,  we  are  not  speaking  of 
words,  but  of  what  the  words  mean.  And  this  brings  us  back  to 
the  argument  of  Parmenides,  that  if  a  word  can  be  used  signifi- 
cantly it  must  mean  something,  not  nothing,  and  therefore  what 
the  word  means  must  in  some  sense  exist. 

What,  then,  are  we  to  say  about  George  Washington  ?  It  seems 
we  have  only  two  alternatives:  one  is  to  say  that  he  still  exists;  the 
other  is  to  say  that,  when  we  use  the  words  "George  Washington," 
we  are  not  really  speaking  of  the  man  who  bore  that  name.  Either 
seems  a  paradox,  but  the  latter  is  less  of  a  paradox,  and  I  shall 
try  to  show  a  sense  in  which  it  is  true. 

Parmenides  assumes  that  words  have  a  constant  meaning;  this 
is  really  the  basis  of  his  argument,  which  he  supposes  unquestion- 
able. But  although  the  dictionary  or  the  encyclopaedia  gives  what 
may  be  called  the  official  and  socially  sanctioned  meaning  of  a 
word,  no  two  people  who  use  the  same  word  have  just  the  same 
thought  in  their  minds. 

George  Washington  himself  could  use  his  name  and  the  word 
"I"  as  synonyms.  He  could  perceive  his  own  thoughts  and  the 

69 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

movements  of  his  body,  and  could  therefore  use  his  name  with  a 
fuller  meaning  than  was  possible  for  any  one  else.  His  friends, 
when  in  his  presence,  could  perceive  the  movements  of  his  body, 
and  could  divine  his  thoughts;  to  them,  the  name  "George 
Washington"  still  denoted  something  concrete  in  their  own 
experience.  After  his  death  they  had  to  substitute  memories  for 
perceptions,  which  involved  a  change  in  the  mental  processes 
taking  place  when  they  used  his  name.  For  us,  who  never  knew 
him,  the  mental  processes  are  again  different.  We  may  think  of 
his  picture,  and  say  to  ourselves  "yes,  that  man."  We  may  think 
"the  first  President  of  the  United  States."  If  we  are  very  ignorant, 
he  may  be  to  us  merely  "The  man  who  was  called  *  George 
Washington.'  "  Whatever  the  name  suggests  to  us,  it  must  be  not 
the  man  himself,  since  we  never  knew  him,  but  something  now 
present  to  sense  or  memory  or  thought.  This  shows  the  fallacy  of 
the  argument  of  Parmenides. 

This  perpetual  change  in  the  meanings  of  words  is  concealed 
by  the  fact  that,  in  general,  the  change  nukes  no  difference  to  the 
truth  or  falsehood  of  the  propositions  in  which  the  words  occur. 
If  you  take  any  true  sentence  in  which  the  name  "George  Washing- 
ton" occurs,  it  will,  as  a  rule,  remain  true  if  you  substitute  the 
phrase  "the  first  President  of  the  United  States."  There  are  ex- 
ceptions to  this  rule.  Before  Washington's  election,  a  man  might 
say  "I  hope  George  Washington  will  be  the  first  President  of  the 
United  States,"  but  he  would  not  say  "I  hope  the  first  President 
of  the  United  States  will  be  the  first  President  of  the  United 
States"  unless  he  had  an  unusual  passion  for  the  law  of  identity. 
But  it  is  easy  to  make  a  rule  for  excluding  these  exceptional  cases, 
and  in  those  that  remain  you  may  substitute  for  "George  Washing- 
ton" any  descriptive  phrase  that  applies  to  him  alone.  And  it  is 
only  by  means  of  such  phrases  that  we  know  what  we  know  about 
him. 

Parmenides  contends  that,  since  we  can  now  know  what  is  com- 
monly regarded  as  past,  it  cannot  really  be  past,  but  must,  in  some 
sense,  exist  now.  Hence  he  infers  that  there  is  no  such  thing  as 
change.  What  we  have  been  saying  about  George  Washington 
meets  this  argument.  It  may  be  said,  in  a  sense,  that  we  have  no 
knowledge  of  the  past.  When  you  recollect,  the  recollection  occurs 
now,  and  is  not  identical  with  the  event  recollected.  But  the  re- 
collection affords  a  description  of  the  past  event,  and  for  most 


PARMENIOES 

practical  purposes  it  is  unnecessary  to  distinguish  between  the 
description  and  what  it  describes. 

This  whole  argument  shows  how  easy  it  is  to  draw  metaphysical 
conclusions  from  language,  and  how  the  only  way  to  avoid 
fallacious  arguments  of  this  kind  is  to  push  the  logical  and  psy- 
chological study  of  language  further  than  has  been  done  by  most 
metaphysicians. 

I  think,  however,  that,  if  Parmenides  could  return  from  the  dead 
and  read  what  I  have  been  saying,  he  would  regard  it  as  very  super- 
ficial. "How  do  you  know,"  he  would  ask,  "that  your  statements 
about  George  Washington  refer  to  a  past  time?  By  your  own 
account,  the  direct  reference  is  to  things  now  present;  your  recol- 
lections, for  instance,  happen  now,  not  at  the  time  that  you  think 
you  recollect.  If  memory  is  to  be  accepted  as  a  source  of  knowledge, 
the  past  must  be  before  the  mind  now,  and  must  therefore  in  some 
sense  still  exist/' 

I  will  not  attempt  to  meet  this  argument  now ;  it  requires  a  dis- 
cussion of  memory,  which  is  a  difficult  subject.  I  have  put  the 
argument  here  to  remind  the  reader  that  philosophical  theories, 
if  they  are  important,  can  generally  be  revived  in  a  new  form  after 
being  refuted  as  originally  stated.  Refutations  are  seldom  final; 
in  most  cases,  they  are  only  a  prelude  to  further  refinements. 

What  subsequent  philosophy,  down  to  quite  modern  times, 
accepted  from  Parmenides.  was  not  the  impossibility  of  all  change, 
which  was  too  violent  a  paradox,  but  the  indestructibility  of  sub- 
it  once.  The  word  "substance"  did  not  occur  in  his  immediate 
successors,  but  the  concept  is  already  present  in  their  speculations. 
A  substance  was  supposed  to  be  the  persistent  subject  of  varying 
predicates.  As  such  it  became,  and  remained  for  more  than  two 
thousand  years,  one  of  the  fundamental  concepts  of  philosophy, 
psychology,  physics,  and  theology.  I  shall  have  much  to  say  about 
it  at  a  later  stage.  For  the  present,  I  am  merely  concerned  to  note 
that  it  was  introduced  as  a  way  of  doing  justice  to  the  arguments 
of  Parmenides  without  denying  obvious  facts. 


Chapter  VI 
EMPEDOCLES 

E  •  IHE  mixture  of  philosopher,  prophet,  man  of  science,  and 
I  charlatan,  which  we  found  already  in  Pythagoras,  was  ex- 
JL  emplified  very  completely  in  Empedocles,  who  flourished 
about  440  B.C.,  and  was  thus  a  younger  contemporary  of  Par- 
menides,  though  his  doctrine  had  in  some  ways  more  affinity  with 
that  of  Heraclitus.  He  was  a  citizen  of  Acragas,  on  the  south  coast 
of  Sicily;  he  was  a  democratic  politician,  who  at  the  same  time 
claimed  to  be  a  god.  In  most  Greek  cities,  and  especially  in  those 
of  Sicily,  there  was  a  constant  conflict  between  democracy  and 
tyranny;  the  leaders  of  whichever  party  was  at  the  moment 
defeated  were  executed  or  exiled.  Those  who  were  exiled  seldom 
scrupled  to  enter  into  negotiations  with  the  enemies  of  Greece — 
Persia  in  the  East,  Carthage  in  the  West.  Empedocles,  in  due 
course,  was  banished,  but  he  appears,  after  his  banishment,  to 
have  preferred  the  career  of  a  sage  to  that  of  an  intriguing  refugee. 
It  seems  probable  that  in  youth  he  was  more  or  less  Orphic ;  that 
before  his  exile  he  combined  politics  and  science;  and  that  it 
was  only  in  later  life,  as  an  exile,  that  he  became  a  prophet. 

Legend  had  much  to  say  about  Empedocles.  He  was  supposed 
to  have  worked  miracles,  or  what  seemed  such,  sometimes  by 
magic,  sometimes  by  means  of  his  scientific  knowledge.  He  could 
control  the  winds,  we  are  told;  he  restored  to  life  a  woman  who 
had  seemed  dead  for  thirty  days;  finally,  it  is  said,  he  died  by 
leaping  into  the  crater  of  Etna  to  prove  that  he  was  a  god.  In  the 
words  of  the  poet : 

Great  Empedocles,  that  ardent  soul, 
Leapt  into  Etna,  and  was  roasted  whole. 

Matthew  Arnold  wrote  a  poem  on  this  subject,  but,  although  one 
of  his  worst,  it  does  not  contain  the  above  couplet. 

Like  Parmenides,  Empedocles  wrote  in  verse.  Lucretius,  who 
was  influenced  by  him,  praised  him  highly  as  a  poet,  but  on  this 
subject  opinions  were  divided.  Since  only  fragments  of  his  writings 
have  survived,  his  poetic  merit  must  remain  in  doubt. 

It  is  necessary  to  deal  separately  with  his  science  and  his  religion, 

72 


BMPEDOCLBS 

as  they  are  not  consistent  with  each  other.  I  shall  consider  first 
his  science,  then  his  philosophy,  and  finally  his  religion. 

His  most  important  contribution  to  science  was  his  discovery  of 
air  as  a  separate  substance.  This  he  proved  by  the  observation  that 
when  a  bucket  or  any  similar  vessel  is  put  upside  down  into  water, 
the  water  does  not  enter  into  the  bucket.  He  says: 

"When  a  girl,  playing  with  a  water-clock  of  shining  brass,  puts 
the  orifice  of  the  pipe  upon  her  comely  hand,  and  dips  the  water- 
clock  into  the  yielding  mass  of  silvery  water,  the  stream  does  not 
then  flow  into  the  vessel,  but  the  bulk  of  the  air  inside,  pressing 
upon  the  close-packed  perforations,  keeps  it  out  till  she  uncovers 
the  compressed  stream ;  but  then  air  escapes  and  an  equal  volume 
of  water  runs  in." 

This  passage  occurs  in  an  explanation  of  respiration. 

He  also  discovered  at  least  one  example  of  centrifugal  force: 
that  if  a  cup  of  water  is  whirled  round  at  the  end  of  a  string,  the 
water  does  not  come  out. 

He  knew  that  there  is  sex  in  plants,  and  he  had  a  theory  (some- 
what fantastic,  it  must  be  admitted)  of  evolution  and  the  survival 
of  the  fittest.  Originally,  "countless  tribes  of  mortal  creatures  were 
scattered  abroad  endowed  with  all  manner  of  forms,  a  wonder  to 
behold."  There  were  heads  without  necks,  arms  without  shoulders, 
eyes  without  foreheads,  solitary  limbs  seeking  for  union.  These 
things  joined  together  as  each  might  chance ;  there  were  shambling 
creatures  with  countless  hands,  creatures  with  faces  and  breasts 
looking  in  different  directions,  creatures  with  the  bodies  of  oxen 
and  the  faces  of  men,  and  others  with  the  faces  of  oxen  and  the 
bodies  of  men.  There  were  hermaphrodites  combining  the  natures 
of  men  and  women,  but  sterile.  In  the  end,  only  certain  forms 
survived. 

As  regards  astronomy:  he  knew  that  the  moon  shines  by  re- 
flected light,  and  thought  that  this  is  also  true  of  the  sun;  he  said 
that  light  takes  time  to  travel,  but  so  little  time  that  we  cannot 
observe  it;  he  knew  that  solar  eclipses  are  caused  by  the  inter- 
position of  the  moon,  a  fact  which  he  seems  to  have  learnt  from 
Anaxagoras. 

He  was  the  founder  of  the  Italian  school  of  medicine,  and  the 
medical  school  which  sprang  from  him  influenced  both  Plato  and 
Aristotle.  According  to  Burnet  (p.  234),  it  affected  the  whole 
tendency  pf  scientific  and  philosophical  thinking. 

73 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL    THOUGHT 

All  this  shows  the  scientific  vigour  of  his  time,  which  was  not 
equalled  in  the  later  ages  of  Greece. 

I  come  now  to  his  cosmology.  It  was  he,  as  already  mentioned, 
who  established  earth,  air,  fire,  and  water  as  the  four  elements 
(though  the  word  "element"  was  not  used  by  him).  Each  of  these 
was  everlasting,  but  they  could  be  mixed  in  different  proportions 
and  thu»  produce  the  changing  complex  substances  that  we  find 
in  the  world.  They  were  combined  by  Love  and  separated  by 
Strife.  Love  and  Strife  were,  for  Empedocles,  primitive  substances 
on  a  level  with  earth,  air,  fire,  and  water.  There  were  periods  when 
Love  was  in  the  ascendant,  and  others  when  Strife  was  the  stronger. 
There  had  been  a  golden  age  when  Love  was  completely  vic- 
torious. In  that  age,  men  worshipped  only  the  Cyprian  Aphrodite 
(fr.  128).  The  changes  in  the  world  are  not  governed  by  any 
purpose,  but  only  by  Chance  and  Necessity.  There  is  a  cycle: 
when  the  elements  have  been  thoroughly  mixed  by  Love,  Strife 
gradually  sorts  them  out  again;  when  Strife  has  separated  them, 
Love  gradually  reunites  them.  Thus  even-  compound  substance 
is  temporary;  only  the  elements,  together  with  Love  and  Strife, 
are  everlasting. 

There  is  a  similarity  to  Heraclitus,  but  a  softening,  since  it  is 
not  Strife  alone,  but  Strife  and  Love  together,  that  produce 
change.  Plato  couples  Heraclitus  and  Empedocles  in  the 
Sophist  (242): 

There  are  Ionian,  and  in  more  recent  time  Sicilian,  muses,  who 
have  arrived  at  the  conclusion  that  to  unite  the  two  principles  (of 
the  One  and  the  Many),  is  safer,  and  to  say  that  being  is  one  and 
many,  and  that  these  are  held  together  by  enmity  and  friendship, 
ever  parting,  ever  meeting,  as  the  severer  Muses  assert,  while  the 
gentler  ones  do  not  insist  on  the  perpetual  strife  and  peace,  but 
admit  a  relaxation  and  alternation  of  them;  peace  and  unity 
sometimes  prevailing  under  the  sway  of  Aphrodite,  and  then 
again  plurality  and  war,  by  reason  of  a  principle  of  strife. 

Empedocles  held  that  the  material  world  is  a  sphere ;  that  in  the 
Golden  Age  Strife  was  outside  and  Love  inside ;  then,  gradually, 
Strife  entered  and  Love  was  expelled,  until,  at  the  worst,  Strife 
will  be  wholly  within  and  Love  wholly  without  the  sphere.  Then 
— though  for  what  reason  is  not  clear — an  opposite  movement 
begins,  until  the  Golden  Age  returns,  but  not  for  ever.  The  whole 
cycle  is  then  repeated.  One  might  have  supposed  \hat  either 

74 


EMPEDOCLES 

extreme  could  be  stable,  but  that  is  not  the  view  of  Empedocles. 
He  wished  to  explain  motion  while  taking  account  of  the  argu- 
ments of  Parmenides,  and  he  had  no  wish  to  arrive,  at  any  stage, 
at  an  unchanging  universe. 

The  views  of  Empedocles  on  religion  are,  in  the  main,  Pytha- 
gorean. In  a  fragment  which,  in  all  likelihood,  refers  to  Pythagoras, 
he  says:  "There  was  among  them  a  man  of  rare  knowledge,  most 
skilled  in  all  manner  of  wise  works,  a  man  who  had  won  the 
utmost  wealth  of  wisdom ;  for  whensoever  he  strained  with  all  his 
mind,  he  easily  saw  everything  of  all  the  things  that  are,  in  ten, 
yea  twenty  lifetimes  of  men."  In  the  Golden  Age,  as  already 
mentioned,  men  worshipped  only  Aphrodite,  "and  the  altar  did 
not  reek  with  pure  bull's  blood,  but  this  was  held  in  the  greatest 
abomination  among  men,  to  eat  the  goodly  limbs  after  tearing  out 
the  life." 

At  one  time  he  speaks  of  himself  exuberantly  as  a  god: 

Friends,  that  inhabit  the  great  city  looking  down  on  the  yellow 
rock  of  Acragas,  up  by  the  citadel,  busy  in  goodly  works,  harbour 
of  honour  for  the  stranger,  men  unskilled  in  meanness,  all  hail.  I 
go  about  among  you  an  immortal  god,  no  mortal  now,  honoured 
among  all  as  is  meet,  crowned  with  fillets  and  flowery  garlands. 
Straightway,  whenever  I  enter  with  these  in  my  train,  both  men 
and  women,  into  the  flourishing  towns,  is  reverence  done  me;  they 
go  after  me  in  countless  throngs,  asking  of  me  what  is  the  way  to 
gain;  some  desiring  oracles,  while  some,  who  for  many  a  weary 
day  have  been  pierced  by  the  grievous  pangs  of  all  manner 
of  sickness,  beg  to  hear  from  me  the  word  of  healing.  .  .  .  But  why 
do  I  harp  on  these  things,  as  if  it  were  any  great  matter  that  I 
should  surpass  mortal,  perishable  men?" 

At  another  time  he  feels  himself  a  great  sinner,  undergoing 
expiation  for  his  impiety: 

There  is  an  oracle  of  Necessity,  an  ancient  ordinance  of  the  gods, 
eternal  and  sealed  fast  by  broad  oaths,  that  whenever  one  of  the 
daemons,  whose  portion  is  length  of  days,  has  sinfully  polluted  his 
hands  with  blood,  or  followed  strife  and  forsworn  himself,  he 
must  wander  thrice  ten  thousand  years  from  the  abodes  of  the 
blessed,  being  born  throughout  the  time  in  all  manners  of  mortal 
forms,  changing  jme  toilsome  path  of  life  for  another.  For  the 
mighty  Air  drives  him  into  the  Sea,  and  the  Sea  spews  him  forth 
upon  the. dry  Earth;  Earth  tosses  him  into  the  beams  of  the 

75 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

blazing  Sun,  and  he  flings  him  back  to  the  eddies  of  Air.  One  takes 
him  from  the  other,  and  all  reject  him.  One  of  these  I  now  am, 
an  exile  and  a  wanderer  from  the  gods,  for  that  I  put  my  trust 
in  an  insensate  strife. 

What  his  sin  had  been,  we  do  not  know;  perhaps  nothing  that 
we  should  think  very  grievous.  For  he  says : 

"Ah,  woe  is  me  that  the  pitiless  day  of  death  did  not  destroy 
me  ere  ever  I  wrought  evil  deeds  of  devouring  with  my  lips  1  ... 

"Abstain  wholly  from  laurel  leaves  .  .  . 

"Wretches,  utter  wretches,  keep  your  hands  from  beans!" 

So  perhaps  he  had  done  nothing  worse  than  munching  laurel 
leaves  or  guzzling  beans. 

The  most  famous  passage  in  Plato,  in  which  he  compares  this 
world  to  a  cave,  in  which  we  sec  only  shadows  of  the  realities  in 
the  bright  world  above,  is  anticipated  by  Empedoclcs;  its  origin 
is  in  the  teaching  of  the  Orphics. 

There  are  some — presumably  those  who  abstain  from  sin 
through  many  incarnations— who  at  last  achieve  immortal  bliss 
in  the  company  of  the  gods : 

But  at  the  last,  they1  appear  among  mortal  men  as  prophets, 
song-writers,  physicians,  and  princes ;  and  thence  they  rise  up  as 
gods  exalted  in  honour,  sharing  the  hearth  of  the  other  gods  and 
the  same  table,  free  from  human  woes,  safe  from  destiny,  and  in- 
capable of  hurt. 

In  all  this,  it  would  seem,  there  is  very  little  that  was  not  already 
contained  in  the  teaching  of  Orphism  and  Pythagoreanism. 

The  originality  of  Empedocies,  outside  science,  consists  in  the 
doctrine  of  the  four  elements,  and  in  the  use  of  the  two  principles 
of  Love  and  Strife  to  explain  change. 

He  rejected  monism,  and  regarded  the  course  of  nature  as 
regulated  by  chance  and  necessity  rather  than  by  purpose.  In 
these  respects  his  philosophy  was  more  scientific  than  those  of 
Parmenides,  Plato,  and  Aristotle.  In  other  respects,  it  is  true,  he 
acquiesced  in  current  superstitions;  but  in  this  he  was  no  worse 
than  many  more  recent  men  of  science. 

1  It  does  not  appear  who  "they"  are,  but  one  may  assume  that  they  are 
those  who  have  preserved  purity. 


Chapter  VII 
ATHENS    IN    RELATION    TO    CULTURE 

E  1   1HE  greatness  of  Athens  begins  at  the  time  of  the  two 
I    Persian  wars  (490  B.C.  and  480-79  B.C.).  Before  that  time, 

JL  Ionia  and  Magna  Graecia  (the  Greek  cities  of  south  Italy 
and  Sicily)  produced  the  great  men.  The  victory  of  Athens  against 
the  Persian  king  Darius  at  Marathon  (490),  and  of  the  combined 
Greek  fleets  against  his  son  and  successor  Xerxes  (480)  under 
Athenian  leadership,  gave  Athens  great  prestige.  The  lonians  in 
the  islands  and  on  part  of  the  mainland  of  Asia  Minor  had  rebelled 
against  Persia,  and  their  liberation  was  effected  by  Athens  after 
the  Persians  had  been  driven  from  the  mainland  of  Greece.  In 
this  operation  the  Spartans,  who  cared  only  about  their  own 
territory,  took  no  part.  Thus  Athens  became  the  predominant 
partner  in  an  alliance  against  Persia.  By  the  constitution  of  the 
alliance,  any  constituent  State  was  bound  to  contribute  either  a 
specified  number  of  ships,  or  the  cost  of  them.  Most  chose  the 
latter,  and  thus  Athens  acquired  naval  supremacy  over  the  other 
allies,  and  gradually  transformed  the  alliance  into  an  Athenian 
Empire.  Athens  became  rich,  and  prospered  under  the  wise 
leadership  of  Pericles,  who  governed,  by  the  free  choice  of  the 
citizens,  for  about  thirty  years,  until  his  fall  in  430  B.C. 

The  age  of  Pericles  was  the  happiest  and  most  glorious  time  in 
the  history  of  Athens.  Aeschylus,  who  had  fought  in  the  Persian 
wars,  inaugurated  Greek  tragedy;  one  of  his  tragedies,  the  Persae, 
departing  from  the  custom  of  choosing  Homeric  subjects,  deals 
with  the  defeat  of  Xerxes.  He  was  quickly  followed  by  Sophocles, 
and  Sophocles  by  Euripides.  Both  extend  into  the  dark  days  of  the 
Peloponnesian  War  that  followed  the  fall  and  death  of  Pericles* 
and  Euripides  reflects  in  his  plays  the  scepticism  of  the  later 
period.  His  contemporary  Aristophanes,  the  comic  poet,  makes 
fun  of  all  isms  from  the  standpoint  of  robust  and  limited  common 
sense;  more  particularly,  he  holds  up  Socrates  to  obloauv  as  one 
who  denies  the  existence  of  Zeus  and  dabbles  in 
scientific  mysteries. 

Athens  had  Mfen  captured  by  Xerxes,  ar 
Acropoli^  had  been  destroyed  by  fire.  Peric 

77 


''  WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL    THOUGHT 

their  reconstruction.  The  Parthenon  and  the  other  temples  whose 
ruins  remain  to  impress  our  age  were  built  by  him.  Pheidias  the 
sculptor  was  employed  by  the  State  to  make  colossal  statues  of 
gods  and  goddesses.  At  the  end  of  this  period,  Athens  was  the 
most  beautiful  and  splendid  city  of  the  Hellenic  world. 

Herodotus,  the  father  of  history,  was  a  native  of  Halicarnassus, 
in  Asia  Minor,  but  lived  in  Athens,  was  encouraged  by  the 
Athenian  State,  and  wrote  his  account  of  the  Persian  wars  from 
the  Athenian  point  of  view. 

The  achievements  of  Athens  in  the  time  of  Pericles  are  perhaps 
the  most  astonishing  thing  in  all  history.  Until  that  time,  Athens 
had  lagged  behind  many  other  Greek  cities ;  neither  in  art  nor  in 
literature  had  it  produced  any  great  man  (except  Solon,  who  was 
primarily  a  lawgiver).  Suddenly,  under  the  stimulus  of  victory 
and  wealth  and  the  need  of  reconstruction,  architects,  sculptors, 
and  dramatists,  who  remain  unsurpassed  to  the  present  day,  pro- 
duced works  which  dominated  the  future  down  to  modern  times. 
This  is  the  more  surprising  when  we  consider  the  smallness  of 
the  population  involved.  Athens  at  its  maximum,  about  430  B.C., 
is  estimated  to  have  numbered  about  230,000  (including  slaves), 
and  the  surrounding  territory  of  rural  Attica  probably  contained 
a  rather  smaller  population.  Never  before  or  since  has  anything 
approaching  the  same  proportion  of  the  inhabitants  of  any  area 
shown  itself  capable  of  work  of  the  highest  excellence. 

In  philosophy,  Athens  contributes  only  two  great  names, 
Socrates  and  Plato.  Plato  belongs  to  a  somewhat  later  period,  but 
Socrates  passed  his  youth  and  early  manhood  under  Pericles.  The 
Athenians  were  sufficiently  interested  in  philosophy  to  listen 
eagerly  to  teachers  from  other  cities.  The  Sophists  were  sought 
after  by  young  men  who  wished  to  torn  the  art  of  disputation; 
in  the  Protagoras,  the  Platonic  Socrates  gives  an  amusing  satirical 
description  of  the  ardent  disciple**  hanging  on  the  words  of  the 
eminent  visitor.  Pericles,  as  we  shall  see,  imported  Anaxagoras, 
from  whom  Socrates  professed  to  have  learned  the  pre-eminence 
of  mind  in  creation. 

Most  of  Plato's  dialogues  are  supposed  by  him  to  take  place 
during  the  time  of  Pericles,  and  they  give  an  agreeable  picture  of 
life  among  the  rich.  Plato  belonged  to  an  aristocratic  Athenian 
family,  and  grew  up  in  the  tradition  of  the  perioil  before  war  and 
democracy  had  destroyed  the  wealth  and  security  of  the  upper 

78 


ATHENS   IN   RELATION   TO   CULTURE 

classes.  His  young  men,  who  have  no  need  to  work,  spend  most 
of  their  leisure  in  the  pursuit  of  science  and  mathematics  and 
philosophy;  they  know  Homer  almost  by  heart,  and  are  critical 
judges  of  the  merits  of  professional  reciters  of  poetry.  The  art 
of  deductive  reasoning  had  been  lately  discovered,  and  afforded 
the  excitement  of  new  theories,  both  true  and  false,  over  the  whole 
field  of  knowledge.  It  was  possible  in  that  age,  as  in  few  others, 
to  be  both  intelligent  and  happy,  and  happy  through  intelligence. 

But  the  balance  of  forces  which  produced  this  golden  age  was 
precarious.  It  was  threatened  both  from  within  and  from  without 
— from  within  by  the  democracy,  and  from  without  by  Sparta. 
To  understand  what  happened  after  Pericles,  we  must  consider 
briefly  the  earlier  history  of  Attica. 

Attica,  at  the  beginning  of  the  historical  period,  was  a  self- 
supporting  little  agricultural  region;  Athens,  its  capital,  was  not 
large,  but  contained  a  growing  population  of  artisans  and  skilled 
artificers  who  desired  to  dispose  of  their  produce  abroad.  Gradually 
it  was  found  more  profitable  to  cultivate  vines  and  olives  rather 
than  grain,  and  to  import  grain,  chiefly  from  the  coast  of  the 
Black  Sea.  This  form  of  cultivation  required  more  capital  than 
the  cultivation  of  grain,  and  the  small  farmers  got  into  debt. 
Attica,  like  other  Greek  states,  had  been  a  monarchy  in  the 
Homeric  age,  but  the  king  became  a  merely  religious  official 
without  political  power.  The  government  fell  into  the  hands  of 
the  aristocracy,  who  oppressed  both  the  country  farmers  and  the 
urban  artisans.  A  compromise  in  the  direction  of  democracy  was 
effected  by  Solon  early  in  the  sixth  century,  and  much  of  his  work 
survived  through  a  subsequent  period  of  tyranny  under  Peisistratus 
and  his  sons.  When  this  period  came  to  an  end,  the  aristocrats, 
as  the  opponents  of  tyranny,  were  able  to  recommend  themselves 
to  the  democracy.  Until  the  fall  of  Pericles,  democratic  processes 
gave  power  to  the  aristocracy,  as  in  nineteenth-century  England. 
But  towards  the  end  of  his  life  the  leaders  of  the  Athenian  demo- 
cracy  began  to  demand  a  larger  share  of  political  power.  At  the 
same  time,  his  imperialist  policy,  with  which  the  economic  pros- 
perity of  Athens  was  bound  up,  caused  increasing  friction  with 
Sparta,  leading  at  last  to  the  Peloponnesian  War  (431-404),  in 
which  Athens  was  completely  defeated. 

In  spile  of  political  collapse,  the  prestige  of  Athens  survived, 

and  throughout  almost  a  millennium  philosophy  was  centred  there. 

» 

79 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

Alexandria  eclipsed  Athens  in  mathematics  and  science,  but  Plato 
and  Aristotle  had  made  Athens  philosophically  supreme.  The 
Academy,  where  Plato  had  taught,  survived  all  other  schools,  and 
persisted,  as  an  island  of  paganism,  for  two  centuries  after  the 
conversion  of  the  Roman  Empire  to  Christianity.  At  last,  in 
A.D.  529,  it  was  closed  by  Justinian  because  of  his  religious  bigotry, 
and  the  Dark  Ages  descended  upon  Europe. 


80 


Chapter  VIII 
ANAXAGORAS 

P  |   IHE   philosopher  Anaxagoras,  though  not   the    equal    of 

I    Pythagoras,  Heraclitus,  or  Parmenides,  has  nevertheless 

JL   a  considerable  historical  importance.  He  was  an  Ionian, 

and  carried  on  the  scientific,  rationalist  tradition  of  Ionia.  He  was 

the  first  to  introduce  philosophy  to  the  Athenians,  and  the  first 

to  suggest  mind  as  the  primary  cause  of  physical  changes. 

He  was  born  at  Clazomenae,  in  Ionia,  about  the  year  500  B.C., 
but  he  spent  about  thirty  years  of  his  life  in  Athens,  approximately 
from  462  to  432  B.C.  He  was  probably  induced  to  come  by  Pericles, 
who  was  bent  on  civilizing  his  fellow-townsmen.  Perhaps  Aspasia, 
who  came  from  Miletus,  introduced  him  to  Pericles.  Plato,  in  the 
Phaedrus,  says : 

Pericles  "fell  in,  it  seems  with  Anaxagoras,  who  was  a  scientific 
man ;  and  satiating  himself  with  the  theory  of  things  on  high,  and 
having  attained  to  a  knowledge  of  the  true  nature  of  intellect  and 
folly,  which  were  just  what  the  discourses  of  Anaxagoras  were 
mainly  about,  he  drew  from  that  source  whatever  was  of  a  nature 
to  further  him  in  the  art  of  speech." 

It  is  said  that  Anaxagoras  also  influenced  Euripides,  but  this 
is  more  doubtful. 

'l*hc  citizens  of  Athens,  like  those  of  other  cities  in  other  ages 
and  continents,  showed  a  certain  hostility  to  those  who  attempted 
to  introduce  a  higher  level  of  culture  than  that  to  which  they  were 
accustomed.  When  Pericles  was  growing  old,  his  opponents  began 
a  campaign  against  him  by  attacking  his  friends.  They  accused 
Phcidias  of  embezzling  some  of  the  gold  that  was  to  be  employed 
on  his  statues.  They  passed  a  law  permitting  impeachment  of 
those  who  did  not  practise  religion  and  taught  theories  about  "the 
things  on  high."  Under  this  law,  they  prosecuted  Anaxagoras, 
who  was  accused  of  teaching  that  the  sun  was  a  red-hot  stone 
and  the  moon  was  earth.  (The  same  accusation  was  repeated  by 
the  prosecutors  of  Socrates,  who  made  fun  of  them  for  being  out 
of  date.)  What  happened  is  not  certain,  except  that  Anaxagoras 
had  to  leave  Athens.  It  seems  probable  that  Pericles  got  him  out 

81 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

of  prison  and  managed  to  get  him  away.  He  returned  to  Ionia, 
where  he  founded  a  school.  In  accordance  with  his  will,  the 
anniversary  of  his  death  was  kept  as  a  schoolchildren 's  holiday. 

Anaxagoras  held  that  everything  is  infinitely  divisible,  and  that 
even  the  smallest  portion  of  matter  contains  some  of  each  element. 
Things  appear  to  be  that  of  which  they  contain  most.  Thus,  for 
example,  everything  contains  some  fire,  but  we  only  call  it  fire  if 
that  element  preponderates.  Like  Empedocles,  he  argues  against 
the  void,  saying  that  the  clepsydra  or  an  inflated  skin  shows  that 
there  is  air  where  there  seems  to  be  nothing. 

He  differed  from  his  predecessors  in  regarding  mind  (nous)  as  a 
substance  which  enters  into  the  composition  of  living  things,  and 
distinguishes  them  from  dead  matter.  In  everything,  he  says,  there 
is  a  portion  of  everything  except  mind,  and  some  things  contain 
mind  also.  Mind  has  power  over  all  things  that  have  life;  it  is 
infinite  and  self-ruled,  and  is  mixed  with  nothing.  Except  as 
regards  mind,  everything,  however  small,  contains  portions  of  all 
opposites,  such  as  hot  and  cold,  white  and  black.  He  maintained 
that  snow  is  black  (in  pan). 

Mind  is  the  source  of  all  motion.  It  causes  a  rotation,  which  is 
gradually  spreading  throughout  the  world,  and  is  causing  the 
lightest  things  to  go  to  the  circumference,  and  the  heaviest  to  fall 
towards  the  centre.  Mind  is  uniform,  and  is  just  as  good  in  animals 
as  in  man.  Man's  apparent  superiority  is  due  to  the  fact  that  he 
has  hands;  all  seeming  differences  of  intelligence  are  really  due 
to  bodily  differences. 

Both  Aristotle  and  the  Platonic  Socrates  complain  that  Anaxa- 
goras, after  introducing  mind,  makes  very  little  use  of  it.  Aristotle 
points  out  that  he  only  introduces  mind  as  a  cause  when  he  knows 
no  other.  Whenever  he  can,  he  gives  a  mechanical  explanation. 
He  rejected  necessity  and  chance  as  giving  the  origins  of  things  ; 
nevertheless,  there  was  no  "Providence"  in  his  cosmology.  He  does 
not  seem  to  have  thought  much  about  ethics  or  religion ;  probably 
he  was  an  atheist,  as  his  prosecutors  maintained.  All  his  pre- 
decessors influenced  him,  except  Pythagoras.  The  influence  of 
Parmenides  was  the  same  in  his  case  as  in  that  of  Empedocles. 

In  science  he  had  great  merit.  It  was  he  who  first  explained  that 
the  moon  shines  by  reflected  light,  though  there  is  a  cryptic  frag- 
ment in  Parmenides  suggesting  that  he  also  knew  this.  Anaxagoras 
gave  the  correct  theory  of  eclipses,  and  knew  that  the  moon  is 

82 


ANAXAGORAS 

below  the  sun.  The  suri  and  stars,  he  said,  are  fiery  stones,  but  we 
do  not  feel  the  heat  of  the  stars  because  they  are  too  distant.  The 
sun  is  larger  than  the  Peloponnesus.  The  moon  has  mountains, 
and  (he  thought)  inhabitants. 

Anaxagoras  is  said  to  have  been  of  the  school  of  Anaximenes ; 
certainly  he  kept  alive  the  rationalist  and  scientific  tradition  of  the 
lonians.  One  does  not  find  in  him  the  ethical  and  religious  pre- 
occupations which,  passing  from  the  Pythagoreans  to  Socrates 
and  from  Socrates  to  Plato,  brought  an  obscurantist  bias  into 
Greek  philosophy.  He  is  not  quite  in  the  first  rank,  but  he  is 
important  as  the  first  to  bring  philosophy  to  Athens,  and  as  one 
of  the  influences  that  helped  to  form  Socrates. 


Chapter  IX 
THE    ATOMISTS 

}  •   IHE  founders  of  atomism  were  two,  Leucippus  and  Demo- 

I    critus.  It  is  difficult  to  disentangle  them,  because  they  are 

JL  generally  mentioned  together,  and  apparently  some  of  the 

works  of  Leucippus  were  subsequently  attributed  to  Democritus. 

Leucippus,  who  seems  to  have  flourished  about  440  B.C.,1  came 

from  Miletus,  and  carried  on  the  scientific  rationalist  philosophy 

associated  with  that  city.  He  was  much  influenced  by  Parmenides 

and  Zeno.  So  little  is  known  of  him  that  Epicurus  (a  later  follower 

of  Democritus)  was  thought  to  have  denied  his  existence  altogether, 

and  some  moderns  have  revived  this  theory.  There  are,  however, 

a  number  of  allusions  to  him  in  Aristotle,  and  it  seems  incredible 

that  these  (which  include  textual  quotations)  would  have  occurred 

if  he  had  been  merely  a  myth. 

Democritus  is  a  much  more  definite  figure.  He  was  a  native  of 
Abdera  in  Thrace;  as  for  his  date,  he  stated  that  he  was  young 
when  Anaxagoras  was  old,  say  about  432  B.C.,  and  he  is  taken  to 
have  flourished  about  420  B.C.  He  travelled  widely  in  southern 
and  eastern  lands  in  search  of  knowledge ;  he  perhaps  spent  a  con- 
siderable time  in  Egypt,  and  he  certainly  visited  Persia.  He  then 
returned  to  Abdera,  where  he  remained.  Zeller  calls  him  "superior 
to  all  earlier  and  contemporary  philosophers  in  wealth  of  know- 
ledge, and  to  most  in  acuteness  and  logical  correctness  of  thinking." 
Democritus  was  a  contemporary  of  Socrates  and  the  Sophists, 
and  should,  on  purely  chronological  grounds,  be  treated  some- 
what later  in  our  history.  The  difficulty  is  that  he  is  so  hard  to 
separate  from  Leucippus.  On  this  ground,  I  am  considering  him 
before  Socrates  and  the  Sophists,  although  part  of  his  philosophy 
was  intended  as  an  answer  to  Protagoras,  his  fellow-townsman 
and  the  most  eminent  of  the  Sophists.  Protagoras,  when  he  visited 
Athens,  was  received  enthusiastically;  Democritus,  on  the  other 
hand,  says:  "I  went  to  Athens,  and  no  one  knew  me."  For  a  long 
time,  his  philosophy  was  ignored  in  Athens;  "It  is  not  clear,"  says 
Burnet,  "that  Plato  knew  anything  about  Democritus Aristotle, 

1  Cyril  Bailey,  The  Greek  Atomitt*  and  Epicurus,  estimates  that  he 
flourished  about  430  B.C.  or  a  link  earlier. 

84 


THE   ATOMISTS 

on  the  other  hand,  knows  Democritus  well;  for  he  too  was  an 
Ionian  from  the  North."1  Plato  never  mentions  him  in  the  Dia- 
logues, but  is  said  by  Diogenes  Laertius  to  have  disliked  him  so 
much  that  he  wished  all  his  books  burnt.  Heath  esteems  him 
highly  as  a  mathematician.2 

The  fundamental  ideas  of  the  common  philosophy  of  Leucippus 
and  Democritus  were  due  to  the  former,  but  as  regards  the 
working  out  it  is  hardly  possible  to  disentangle  them,  nor  is  it, 
for  our  purposes,  important  to  make  the  attempt.  Leucippus, 
if  not  Democritus,  was  led  to  atomism  in  the  attempt  to  mediate 
between  monism  and  pluralism,  as  represented  by  Parmenides 
and  Empedocles  respectively.  Their  point  of  view  was  remark- 
ably like  that  of  modern  science,  and  avoided  most  of  the  faults 
to  which  Greek  speculation  was  prone.  They  believed  that 
everything  is  composed  of  atoms,  which  are  physically,  but 
not  geometrically,  indivisible;  that  between  the  atoms  there  is 
empty  space;  that  atoms  are  indestructible;  that  they  always  have 
been,  and  always  will  be,  in  motion;  that  there  are  an  infinite 
number  of  atoms,  and  even  of  kinds  of  atoms,  the  differences  being 
as  regards  shape  and  size.  Aristotle3  asserts  that,  according  to  the 
atomists,  atoms  also  differ  as  regards  heat,  the  spherical  atoms, 
which  compose  fire,  being  the  hottest;  and  as  regards  weight,  he 
quotes  Democritus  as  saying  "The  more  any  indivisible  exceeds, 
the  heavier  it  is."  But  the  question  whether  atoms  are  originally 
possessed  of  weight  in  the  theories  of  the  atomists  is  a  controversial 
one. 

The  atoms  were  always  in  motion,  but  there  is  disagreement 
among  commentators  as  to  the  character  of  the  original  motion. 
Some,  especially  Zeller,  hold  that  the  atoms  were  thought  to  be 
always  falling,  and  that  the  heavier  ones  fell  faster;  they  thus 
caught  up  the  lighter  ones,  there  were  impacts,  and  the  atoms 
were  deflected  like  billiard  balls.  This  was  certainly  the  view  of 
Epicurus,  who  in  most  respects  based  his  theories  on  those  of 
Democritus,  while  trying,  rather  unintelligently,  to  take  account 
of  Aristotle's  criticisms.  But  there  is  considerable  reason  to  think 
that  weight  was  not  an  original  property  of  the  atoms  of  Leucippus 
and  Democritus.  It  seems  more  probable  that,  on  their  view, 
atoms  were  originally  moving  at  random,  as  in  the  modern  kinetic 

1  /•'ram  ThaUt  to  Plato,  p.  193-      f  G™*k  Mathematics,  Vol.  I,  p.  176. 
9  On  Generation  and  Corruption,  316*. 

85 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

theory  of  gases.  Democritus  said  there  was  neither  up  nor  down 
in  the  infinite  void,  and  compared  the  movement  of  atoms  in  the 
soul  to  that  of  motes  in  a  sunbeam  when  there  is  no  wind.  This  is 
a  much  more  intelligent  view  than  that  of  Epicurus,  and  I  think 
we  may  assume  it  to  have  been  that  of  Leucippus  and  Democritus.1 

As  a  result  of  collisions,  collections  of  atoms  came  to  form 
vortices.  The  rest  proceeded  much  as  in  Anaxagoras,  but  it  was 
an  advance  to  explain  the  vortices  mechanically  rather  than  as 
due  to  the  action  of  mind. 

It  was  common  in  antiquity  to  reproach  the  atomists  with  attri- 
buting everything  to  chance.  They  were,  on  the  contrary,  strict 
determinists,  who  believed  that  everything  happens  in  accordance 
with  natural  laws.  Democritus  explicitly  denied  that  anything  can 
happen  by  chance.8  Leucippus,  though  his  existence  is  questioned, 
is  known  to  have  said  one  thing:  "Naught  happens  for  nothing, 
but  everything  from  a  ground  and  of  necessity/'  It  is  true  that 
he  gave  no  reason  why  the  world  should  originally  have  been  as 
it  was;  this,  perhaps,  might  have  been  attributed  to  chance*.  Hut 
when  once  the  world  existed,  its  further  development  was  un- 
alterably fixed  by  mechanical  principles.  -Aristotle  and  others 
reproached  him  and  Democritus  for  not  accounting  for  the 
original  motion  of  the  atoms,  but  in  thi*  the  atomists  were  more 
scientific  than  their  critics.  Causation  must  start  from  something, 
and  wherever  it  starts  no  cause  can  be  assigned  for  the  initial 
datum.  The  world  may  be  attributed  to  a  Creator,  but  even  then 
the  Creator  Himself  is  unaccounted  for.  The  theory  of  the  atomists, 
in  fact,  was  more  nearly  that  of  modern  science  than  any  other 
theory  propounded  in  antiquity. 

The  atomists,  unlike  Socrates,  Plato,  and  Aristotle,  sought  to 
explain  the  world  without  introducing  the  notion  of  purpose  or 
Jmal  cause.  The  "final  cause"  of  an  occurrence  is  an  event  in  the 
future  for  the  sake  of  which  the  occurrence  takes  place.  In  human 
affairs,  this  conception  is  applicable.  Why  does  the  baker  make 
bread?  Because  people  will  be  hungry.  Why  are  railways  built? 
Because  people  will  wish  to  travel  In  such  cases,  things  are  ex- 
plained by  the  purpose  they  serve.  When  we  ask  "why?"  con- 
cerning an  event,  we  may  mean  either  of  two  things.  We  may 

1  This  interpretation  is  adopted  by  Bumct,  and  alsfy  at  leant  as  regard* 
Leucippus,  by  Uaiiey  (op.  nV.,  p.  83). 
*  See  Bailey,  op.  a/.,  p.  121,  on  the  detenniruttn  of  Uetnocqtu*. 

86 


THE  ATOMIST8 

mean:  "What  purpose  did  this  event  serve?"  or  we  may  mean: 
"What  earlier  circumstances  caused  this  event?"  The  answer  to 
the  former  question  is  a  teleological  explanation,  or  an  explanation 
by  final  causes ;  the  answer  to  the  latter  question  is  a  mechanistic 
explanation.  I  do  not  see  how  it  could  have  been  known  in  advance 
which  of  these  two  questions  science  ought  to  ask,  or  whether  it 
ought  to  ask  both.  But  experience  has  shown  that  the  mechanistic 
question  leads  to  scientific  knowledge,  while  the  teleological 
question  does  not.  The  atomists  asked  the  mechanistic  question, 
and  gave  a  mechanistic  answer.  Their  successors,  until  the  Re- 
naissance, were  more  interested  in  the  teleological  question,  and 
thus  led  science  up  a  blind  alley. 

In  regard  to  both  questions  alike,  there  is  a  limitation  which  is 
often  ignored,  both  in  popular  thought  and  in  philosophy.  Neither 
question  can  be  asked  intelligibly  about  reality  as  a  whole  (including 
God),  but  only  about  parts  of  it.  As  regards  the  teleological 
explanation,  it  usually  arrives,  before  long,  at  a  Creator,  or  at  least 
an  Artificer,  whose  purposes  are  realized  in  the  course  of  nature. 
But  if  a  man  is  so  obstinately  teleological  as  to  continue  to  ask 
what  purpose  is  served  by  the  Creator,  it  becomes  obvious  that 
his  question  is  impious.  It  is,  moreover,  unmeaning,  since,  to 
make  it  significant,  we  should  have  to  suppose  the  Creator  created 
by  some  super-Creator  whose  purposes  He  served.  The  conception 
of  purpose,  therefore,  is  only  applicable  within  reality,  not  to 
reality  as  a  whole. 

A  not  dissimilar  argument  applies  to  mechanistic  explanations. 
One  event  is  caused  by  another,  the  other  by  a  third,  and  so  on. 
But  if  we  ask  for  a  cause  of  the  whole,  we  are  driven  again  to  the 
Creator,  who  must  Himself  be  uncaused.  All  causal  explanations, 
therefore  must  have  an  arbitrary  beginning.  That  is  why  it  is  no 
defect  in  the  theory  of  the  atomists  to  have  left  the  original  move- 
ments of  the  atoms  unaccounted  for. 

It  must  not  be  supposed  that  their  reasons  for  their  theories 
were  wholly  empirical.  The  atomic  theory  was  revived  in  modern 
times  to  explain  the  facts  of  chemistry,  but  these  facts  were  not 
known  to  the  Greeks.  There  was  no  very  sharp  distinction,  in 
ancient  times,  between  empirical  observation  and  logical  argu- 
ment. Parmcnides,  it  is  true,  treated  observed  facts  with  contempt, 
but  Empedocles*and  Anaxagoras  would  combine  much  of  their 
metaphysics  with  observations  on  water-clocks  and  whirling 

87 


WESTERN   PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

buckets.  Until  the  Sophists,  no  philosopher  seems  to  have  doubted 
that  a  complete  metaphysic  and  cosmology  could  be  established 
by  a  combination  of  much  reasoning  and  some  observation.  By 
good  luck,  the  atomists  hit  on  a  hypothesis  for  which,  more  than 
two  thousand  years  later,  some  evidence  was  found,  but  their 
belief,  in  their  day,  was  none  the  less  destitute  of  any  solid 
foundation.1 

Like  the  other  philosophers  of  his  time,  Leucippus  was  con- 
cerned to  find  a  way  of  reconciling  the  arguments  of  Parmenides 
with  the  obvious  fact  of  motion  and  change.  As  Aristotle  says:2 

"  Although  these  opinions  [those  of  Parmenides]  appear  to  follow 
logically  in  a  dialectical  discussion,  yet  to  believe  them  seems 
next  door  to  madness  when  one  considers  the  facts.  For  indeed  no 
lunatic  seems  to  be  so  far  out  of  his  senses  as  to  suppose  that  fire 
and  ice  are  "one":  it  is  only  between  what  is  right  and  what  seems 
right  from  habit  that  some  people  are  mad  enough  to  see  no 
difference." 

Leucippus,  however,  thought  he  had  a  theory  which  harmonized 
with  sense-perception  and  would  not  abolish  either  coming-to-be 
and  passing-away  or  motion  and  the  multiplicity  of  things.  He 
made  these  concessions  to  the  facts  of  perception:  on  the  other 
hand,  he  conceded  to  the  Monists  that  there  could  be  no  motion 
without  a  void.  The  result  is  a  theory  which  he  states  as  follows : 
"The  void  is  a  not-being,  and  no  part  of  what  is  is  a  not-being;  for 
what  is  in  the  strict  sense  of  the  term  is  an  absolute  plenum.  This 
plenum,  however,  is  not  one;  on  the  contrary,  it  is  a  many  infinite 
in  number  and  invisible  owing  to  the  minuteness  of  their  bulk.  The 
many  move  in  the  void  (for  there  is  a  void):  and  by  coming  to- 
gether they  produce  coming-to-be,  while  by  separating  they  pro- 
duce passing-away.  Moreover,  they  act  and  suffer  action  whenever 
they  chance  to  be  in  contact  (for  there  they  are  not  one),  and  they 
generate  by  being  put  together  and  become  intertwined.  From 
the  genuinely  one,  on  the  other  hand,  there  could  never  have  come 
to  be  a  multiplicity,  nor  from  the  genuinely  many  a  one:  that  is 
impossible." 

It  will  be  seen  that  there  was  one  point  on  which  even-body  50 
far  was  agreed,  namely  that  there  could  be  no  motion  in  a  plenum. 

1  On  the  logical  and  mathematical  grounds  for  the  theories  of  the 
•tomists,  tee  Gaston  Mtthaud,  Let  Phifaiophn  Gfometw  de  la  Greet, 
chap.  sv. 

*  On  Generation  and  Corruption,  325*. 

88 


THE   ATOMISTS 

In  this,  all  alike  were  mistaken.  There  can  be  cyclic  motion  in  a 
plenum,  provided  it  has  always  existed.  The  idea  was  that  a  thing 
could  only  move  into  an  empty  place,  and  that,  in  a  plenum,  there 
are  no  empty  places.  It  might  be  contended,  perhaps  validly,  that 
motion  could  never  begin  in  a  plenum,  but  it  cannot  be  validly 
maintained  that  it  could  not  occur  at  all.  To  the  Greeks,  however, 
it  seemed  that  one  must  either  acquiesce  in  the  unchanging  world 
of  Parmcnides,  or  admit  the  void. 

Now  the  arguments  of  Parmenides  against  not-being  seemed 
logically  irrefutable  against  the  void,  and  they  were  reinforced  by 
the  discovery  that  where  there  seems  to  be  nothing  there  is  air. 
(This  is  an  example  of  the  confused  mixture  of  logic  and  observa- 
tion that  was  common.)  We  may  put  the  Parmenidean  position 
in  this  way:  "You  say  there  is  the  void;  therefore  the  void  is  not 
nothing;  therefore  it  is  not  the  void."  It  cannot  be  said  that  the 
atomists  answered  this  argument;  they  merely  proclaimed  that 
they  proposed  to  ignore  it,  on  the  ground  that  motion  is  a  fact  of 
experience,  and  therefore  there  must  be  a  void,  however  difficult 
it  may  be  to  conceive.1 

Let  us  consider  the  subsequent  history  of  this  problem.  The 
first  and  most  obvious  way  of  avoiding  the  logical  difficulty  is  to 
distinguish  between  matter  and  space.  According  to  this  view, 
space  is  not  nothing,  but  is  of  the  nature  of  a  receptacle,  which 
may  or  may  not  have  any  given  part  filled  with  matter.  Aristotle 
says  (Physics,  208  b):  'The  theory  that  the  void  exists  involves 
the  existence  of  place:  for  one  would  define  void  as  place  bereft 
of  body/'  This  view  is  set  forth  with  the  utmost  explicitness  by 
Newton,  who  asserts  the  existence  of  absolute  space,  and  accor- 
dingly distinguishes  absolute  from  relative  motion.  In  the 
C'opernican  controversy,  both  sides  (however  little  they  may 
have  realized  it)  were  committed  to  this  view,  since  they  thought 
there  was  a  difference  between  saying  "the  heavens  revolve  from 
cast  to  west"  and  saying  "the  earth  rotates  from  west  to  east/' 
If  all  motion  is  relative,  these  two  statements  are  merely  different 

1  Bailey  (op.  «/.,  p.  75)  maintains,  on  the  contrary,  that  Leucippus  had 
an  answer,  which  was  "extremely  subtle."  It  consisted  essentially  in 
admitting  the  existence  of  something  (the  void)  which  was  not  corporeal. 
Similarly  Burnet  sa>«;  "It  is  a  curious  fact  that  the  Atomists,  who  are 
commonly  regarded  as  the  great  materialists  of  antiquity,  were  actually 
the  first  to  wy  distinctly  that  a  thing  might  be  real  without  being  a  body." 

89 


WESTERN   PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

ways  of  saying  the  same  thing,  like  "John  is  the  father  of  James" 
and  "James  is  the  son  of  John."  But  if  all  motion  is  relative,  and 
space  is  not  substantial,  we  are  left  with  the  Parmenidean  argu- 
ments against  the  void  on  our  hands. 

Descartes,  whose  arguments  are  of  just  the  same  sort  as  those 
of  early  Greek  philosophers,  said  that  extension  is  the  essence  of 
matter,  and  therefore  there  is  matter  everywhere.  For  him, 
extension  is  an  adjective,  not  a  substantive;  its  substantive  is 
matter,  and  without  its  substantive  it  cannot  exist.  Empty  space, 
to  him,  is  as  absurd  as  happiness  without  a  sentient  being  who  is 
happy.  Leibniz,  on  somewhat  different  grounds,  also  believed  in 
the  plenum,  but  he  maintained  that  space  is  merely  a  system  of 
relations.  On  this  subject  there  was  a  famous  controversy  between 
him  and  Newton,  the  latter  represented  by  Clarke.  The  con- 
troversy remained  undecided  until  the  time  of  Einstein,  whose 
theory  conclusively  gave  the  victory  to  Leibniz. 

The  modern  physicist,  while  he  still  believes  that  matter  is  in 
some  sense  atomic,  does  not  believe  in  empty  space.  Where  there 
is  not  matter,  there  is  still  something,  notably  light-waves.  Matter 
no  longer  has  the  lofty  status  that  it  acquired  in  philosophy  through 
the  arguments  of  Parmenides.  It  is  not  unchanging  substance,  but 
merely  a  way  of  grouping  events.  Some  events  belong  to  groups 
that  can  be  regarded  as  material  things;  others,  such  as  light- 
waves, do  not.  It  is  the  events  that  are  the  stuff  of  the  world,  and 
each  of  them  is  of  brief  duration.  In  this  respect,  modern  physics 
is  on  the  side  of  Heraclitus  as  against  Parmenides.  But  it  was  on 
the  side  of  Parmenides  until  Einstein  and  quantum  theory. 

As  regards  space,  the  modern  view  is  that  it  is  neither  a  sub- 
stance, as  Newton  maintained,  and  as  Leucippus  and  Democritus 
ought  to  have  said,  nor  an  adjective  of  extended  bodies,  as  Des- 
cartes thought,  but  a  system  of  relations,  as  Leibniz  held.  It  is 
not  by  any  means  clear  whether  this  view  is  compatible  with  the 
existence  of  the  void.  Perhaps,  as  a  matter  of  abstract  logic,  it  can 
be  reconciled  with  the  void.  We  might  say  that,  between  any  two 
things,  there  is  a  certain  greater  or  smaller  distance,  and  that 
distance  does  not  imply  the  existence  of  intermediate  things. 
Such  a  point  of  view,  however,  would  be  impossible  to  utilize 
in  modern  physics.  Since  Einstein,  distance  ^is  between  events, 
not  between  things,  and  involves  time  as  well  as  space.  It  is 
essentially  a  causal  conception,  and  in  modern  physra  there  is 


THE   ATOMI3TB 

no  action  at  a  distance.  All  this,  however,  is  based  upon  empirical 
rather  than  logical  grounds.  Moreover  the  modern  view  cannot  be 
stated  except  in  terms  of  differential  equations,  and  would  therefore 
be  unintelligible  to  the  philosophers  of  antiquity. 

It  would  seem,  accordingly,  that  the  logical  development  of  the 
views  of  the  atomists  is  the  Newtonian  theory  of  absolute  space, 
which  meets  the  difficulty  of  attributing  reality  to  not-being.  To 
this  theory  there  are  no  logical  objections.  The  chief  objection  is 
that  absolute  space  is  absolutely  unknowable,  and  cannot  therefore 
be  a  necessary  hypothesis  in  an  empirical  science.  The  more 
practical  objection  is  that  physics  can  get  on  without  it.  But  the 
world  of  the  atomists  remains  logically  possible,  and  is  more  akin 
to  the  actual  world  than  is  the  world  of  any  other  of  the  ancient 
philosophers. 

Democritus  worked  out  his  theories  in  considerable  detail,  and 
some  of  the  working-out  is  interesting.  Each  atom,  he  said,  was 
impenetrable  and  indivisible  because  it  contained  no  void.  When 
you  use  a  knife  to  cut  an  apple,  the  knife  has  to  find  empty  places 
where  it  can  penetrate ;  if  the  apple  contained  no  void,  it  would 
be  infinitely  hard  and  therefore  physically  indivisible.  Each  atom 
is  internally  unchanging,  and  in  fact  a  Parmenidean  One.  The  only 
things  that  atoms  do  are  to  move  and  hit  each  other,  and  some- 
times to  combine  when  they  happen  to  have  shapes  that  are 
capable  of  interlocking.  They  are  of  all  sorts  of  shapes;  fire  is 
composed  of  small  spherical  atoms,  and  so  is  the  soul.  Atoms,  by 
collision,  produce  vortices,  which  generate  bodies  and  ultimately 
worlds.1  There  are  many  worlds,  some  growing,  some  decaying; 
some  may  have  no  sun  or  moon,  some  several.  Every  world  has  a 
Ixrtfinning  and  an  end.  A  world  may  be  destroyed  by  collision 
with  a  larger  world.  This  cosmology  may  be  summarized  in 
Shelley's  words: 

Worlds  on  worlds  are  rolling  ever 

From  creation  to  decay, 
Like  the  bubbles  on  a  river 

Sparkling  bursting,  borne  away. 

Life  developed  out  of  the  primeval  slime.  There  is  some  fire  every- 
where in  a  living  body,  but  most  in  the  brain  or  in  the  breast.  (On 

1  On  the  way  in  wfiich  this  was  supposed  to  happen,  sec  Bailey,  op.  «'!., 
p.  138  ff. 

91 


WESTERN   PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

this,  authorities  differ.)  Thought  is  a  kind  of  motion,  and  is  thus 
able  to  cause  motion  elsewhere.  Perception  and  thought  are  phy- 
sical processes.  Perception  is  of  two  sorts,  one  of  the  senses,  one 
of  the  understanding.  Perceptions  of  the  latter  sort  depend  only 
on  the  things  perceived,  while  those  of  the  former  sort  depend 
also  on  our  senses,  and  are  therefore  apt  to  be  deceptive.  Like 
Locke,  Democritus  held  that  such  qualities  as  warmth,  taste,  and 
colour  are  not  really  in  the  object,  but  are  due  to  our  sense-organs, 
while  such  qualities  as  weight,  density,  and  hardness  are  really  in 
the  object. 

Democritus  was  a  thorough-going  materialist;  for  him,  as  we 
have  seen,  the  soul  was  composed  of  atoms,  and  thought  was  a 
physical  process.  There  was  no  purpose  in  the  universe;  there 
were  only  atoms  governed  by  mechanical  laws.  He  disbelieved  in 
popular  religion,  and  he  argued  against  the  nous  of  Anaxagoras. 
In  ethics  he  considered  cheerfulness  the  goal  of  life,  and  regarded 
moderation  and  culture  as  the  best  means  to  it.  He  disliked  every- 
thing violent  and  passionate;  he  disapproved  of  sex,  because,  he 
said,  it  involved  the  overwhelming  of  consciousness  by  pleasure. 
He  valued  friendship,  but  thought  ill  of  women,  and  did  not  desire 
children,  because  their  education  interferes  with  philosophy.  In 
all  this,  he  was  very  like  Jeremy  Bentham ;  he  was  equally  so  in 
his  love  of  what  the  Greeks  called  democracy.1 

Democritus — such,  at  least,  is  my  opinion — is  the  last  of  the 
Greek  philosophers  to  be  free  from  a  certain  fault  which  vitiated 
all  later  ancient  and  medieval  thought.  All  the  philosophers  we 
have  been  considering  so  far  were  engaged  in  a  disinterested  effort 
to  understand  the  world.  They  thought  it  easier  to  understand 
than  it  is,  but  without  this  optimism  they  would  not  have  had  the 
courage  to  make  a  beginning.  Their  attitude,  in  the  main,  was 
genuinely  scientific  whenever  it  did  not  merely  embody  the  pre- 
judices of  their  age.  But  it  was  not  only  scientific ;  it  was  imaginative 
and  vigorous  and  filled  with  the  delight  of  adventure.  They  were 
interested  in  everything — meteors  and  eclipses,  fishes  and  whirl- 
winds, religion  and  morality;  with  a  penetrating  intellect  they 
combined  the  zest  of  children. 

From  this  point  onwards,  there  are  first  certain  seeds  of  decay, 
in  spite  of  previously  unmatched  achievement,  and  then  a  gradual 

1  "Poverty  in  a  democracy  t*  ••  much  to  be  preferred  to  what  is  called 
prosperity  under  despots  •*  freedom  is  to  slavery/'  he  tayt. 

9* 


THE   ATOMIBT8 

decadence.  What  is  amiss,  even  in  the  best  philosophy  after  Demo- 
critus,  is  an  undue  emphasis  on  man  as  compared  with  the  universe. 
First  comes  scepticism,  with  the  Sophists,  leading  to  a  study  of 
how  we  know  rather  than  to  the  attempt  to  acquire  fresh  knowledge. 
Then  comes,  with  Socrates,  the  emphasis  on  ethics;  with  Plato, 
the  rejection  of  the  world  of  sense  in  favour  of  the  self-created 
world  of  pure  thought;  with  Aristotle,  the  belief  in  purpose  as 
the  fundamental  concept  in  science.  In  spite  of  the  genius  of  Plato 
and  Aristotle,  their  thought  has  vices  which  proved  infinitely 
harmful.  After  their  time,  there  was  a  decay  of  vigour,  and  a 
gradual  recrudescence  of  popular  superstition.  A  partially  new 
outlook  arose  as  a  result  of  the  victory  of  Catholic  orthodoxy;  but 
it  was  not  until  the  Renaissance  that  philosophy  regained  the 
vigour  and  independence  that  characterize  the  predecessors  of 
Socrates. 


Chapter  X 
PROTAGORAS 

E  •  IHE  great  pre-Socratic  systems  that  we  have  been  consider- 
I  ing  were  confronted,  in  the  latter  half  of  the  fifth  century, 
JL  by  a  sceptical  movement,  in  which  the  most  important 
figure  was  Protagoras,  chief  of  the  Sophists.  The  word  "Sophist" 
had  originally  no  bad  connotation;  it  meant,  as  nearly  as  may  be, 
what  we  mean  by  "professor."  A  Sophist  was  a  man  who  made 
his  living  by  teaching  young  men  certain  things  that,  it  was 
thought,  would  be  useful  to  them  in  practical  life.  As  there  was 
no  public  provision  for  such  education,  the  Sophists  taught  only 
those  who  had  private  means,  or  whose  parents  had.  This  tended 
to  give  them  a  certain  class  bias,  which  was  increased  by  the 
political  circumstances  of  the  time.  In  Athens  and  many  other 
cities,  democracy  was  politically  triumphant,  but  nothing  had 
been  done  to  diminish  the  wealth  of  those  who  belonged  to  the 
old  aristocratic  families.  It  was,  in  the  main,  the  rich  who  em- 
bodied what  appears  to  us  as  Hellenic  culture:  they  had  education 
and  leisure,  travel  had  taken  the  edge  off  their  traditional  pre- 
judices, and  the  time  that  they  spent  in  discussion  sharpened  their 
wits.  What  was  called  democracy  did  not  touch  the  institution  of 
slavery,  which  enabled  the  rich  to  enjoy  their  wealth  without 
oppressing  free  citizens. 

In  many  cities,  however,  and  especially  in  Athens,  the  poorer 
citizens  had  towards  the  rich  a  double  hostility,  that  of  envy,  and 
that  of  traditionalism.  The  rich  were  supposed — often  with  justice 
— to  be  impious  and  immoral;  they  were  subverting  ancient 
beliefs,  and  probably  trying  to  destroy  democracy'.  It  thus  hap- 
pened that  political  democracy,  was  associated  with  cultural 
conservatism,  while  those  who  were  cultural  innovators  tended  to 
be  political  reactionaries.  Somewhat  the  same  situation  exists  in 
modern  America,  where  Tammany,  as  a  mainly  Catholic  organiza- 
tion, is  engaged  in  defending  traditional  theological  and  ethical 
dogmas  against  the  assaults  of  enlightenment.  But  the  enlightened 
are  politically  weaker  in  America  than  they  were  in  Athens, 
because  they  have  failed  to  make  common  cav*e  with  the  pluto- 
cracy. There  is,  however,  one  important  and  highly  intellectual 

94 


PROTAGORAS 

class  which  is  concerned  with  the  defence  of  the  plutocracy, 
namely  the  class  of  corporation  lawyers.  In  same  respects,  their 
functions  are  similar  to  those  that  were  performed  in  Athens  by 
the  Sophists. 

Athenian  democracy,  though  it  had  the  grave  limitation  of  not 
including  slaves  or  women,  was  in  some  respects  more  democratic 
than  any  modern  system.  Judges  and  most  executive  officers  were 
chosen  by  lot,  and  served  for  short  periods;  they  were  thus  average 
citizens,  like  our  jurymen,  with  the  prejudices  and  lack  of  pro- 
fessionalism characteristic  of  average  citizens.  In  general,  there 
were  a  large  number  of  judges  to  hear  each  case.  The  plaintiff 
and  defendant,  or  prosecutor  and  accused,  appeared  in  person, 
not  through  professional  lawyers.  Naturally,  success  or  failure 
depended  largely  on  oratorical  skill  in  appealing  to  popular  pre- 
judices. Although  a  man  had  to  deliver  his  own  speech,  he  could 
hire  an  expert  to  write  the  speech  for  him,  or,  as  many  preferred, 
he  could  pay  for  instruction  in  the  arts  required  for  success  in  the 
law  courts.  These  arts  the  Sophists  were  supposed  to  teach. 

The  aye  of  Pericles  is  analogous,  in  Athenian  history,  to  the 
Victorian  age  in  the  history  of  England.  Athens  was  rich  and 
powerful,  not  much  troubled  by  wars,  and  possessed  of  a  demo- 
cratic constitution  administered  by  aristocrats.  As  we  have  seen, 
in  connection  with  Anaxagoras,  a  democratic  opposition  to 
Pericles  gradually  gathered  strength,  and  attacked  his  friends  one 
by  one.  The  Pcloponnesian  War  broke  out  in  43 1  B.C.  ;J  Athens 
(in  common  with  many  other  places)  was  ravaged  by  the  plague; 
the  population,  which  had  been  about  230,000,  was  greatly 
reduced,  and  never  rose  again  to  its  former  level  (Bury,  History  of 
Greece,  I,  p.  444).  Pericles  himself,  in  430  B.C.,  was  deposed  from 
the  office  of  general  and  fined  for  misappropriation  of  public 
money,  but  soon  reinstated.  His  two  legitimate  sons  died 
of  the  plague,  and  he  himself  died  in  the  following  year  (429). 
Pheidias  and  Anaxagoras  were  condemned;  Aspasia  was  prose- 
cuted for  impiety  and  for  keeping  a  disorderly  house,  but 
acquitted. 

In  such  a  community,  it  was  natural  that  men  who  were  likely 
to  incur  the  hostility  of  democratic  politicians  should  wish  to 
acquire  forensic  skill.  For  Athens,  though  much  addicted  to  per- 
secution, was  in  one  respect  less  illiberal  than  modern  America, 
1   It  ended  in  404  ii.C.  with  the  complete  overthrow  of  Athens. 

95 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

since  those  accused  of  impiety  and  corrupting  the  young  were 
allowed  to  plead  in  their  own  defence. 

This  explains  the  popularity  of  the  Sophists  with  one  class  and 
their  unpopularity  with  another.  But  in  their  own  minds  they 
served  more  impersonal  purposes,  and  it  is  clear  that  many  of 
them  were  genuinely  concerned  with  philosophy.  Plato  devoted 
himself  to  caricaturing  and  vilifying  them,  but  they  must  not  be 
judged  by  his  polemics.  In  his  lighter  vein,  take  the  following 
passage  from  the  Eutkydemus,  in  which  two  Sophists,  Dionyso- 
dorus  and  Euthydemus,  set  to  work  to  puzzle  a  simple-minded 
person  named  Clesippus.  Dionysodorus  begins: 

You  say  that  you  have  a  dog  ? 

Yes,  a  villain  of  a  one,  said  Clesippus. 

And  he  has  puppies  ? 

Yes,  and  they  are  very  like  himself. 

And  the  dog  is  the  father  of  them  ? 

Yes,  he  said,  I  certainly  saw  him  and  the  mother  of  the 

puppies  come  together. 
And  is  he  not  yours  ? 
To  be  sure  he  is. 
Then  he  is  a  father,  and  he  is  yours;  ergo,  he  is  your 

father,  and  the  puppies  are  your  brothers. 

In  a  more  serious  vein,  take  the  dialogue  called  The  Sophist. 
This  is  a  logical  discussion  of  definition,  which  uses  the  sophist 
as  an  illustration.  With  its  logic  we  are  not  at  present  concerned ; 
the  only  thing  I  wish  to  mention  at  the  moment  as  regards  this 
dialogue  is  the  final  conclusion : 

"The  ait  of  contradiction-making,  descended  from  an  insincere 
kind  of  conceited  mimicry,  of  the  semblance- making  breed, 
derived  from  image-making,  distinguished  as  a  portion,  not  divine 
but  human,  of  production,  that  presents  a  shadow-play  of  words 
— such  is  the  blood  and  lineage  which  can,  with  perfect  truth,  be 
assigned  to  the  authentic  Sophist/'  (Corn ford's  translation.) 

There  is  a  story  about  Protagoras,  no  doubt  apocryphal,  which 
illustrates  the  connection  of  the  Sophists  with  the  law-courts  in 
the  popular  mind.  It  is  said  that  he  taught  a  young  man  on  the 
terms  that  he  should  be  paid  his  fee  if  the  young  man  won 
his  first  law-suit,  but  not  otherwise,  and  that  the  young  man's 
first  law-suit  was  one  brought  by  Protagoras  for  recovery  of 
his  fee. 

96 


PROTAGORAS 

However,  it  is  time  to  leave  these  preliminaries  and  see  what  is 
really  known  about  Protagoras. 

Protagoras  was  born  about  500  B.C.,  at  Abdera,  the  city  from 
which  Democritus  came.  He  twice  visited  Athens,  his  second  visit 
being  not  later  than  432  B.C.  He  made  a  code  of  laws  for  the  city 
of  Thurii  in  444-3  B.C.  There  is  a  tradition  that  he  was  prosecuted 
for  impiety,  but  this  seems  to  be  untrue,  in  spite  of  the  fact  that 
he  wrote  a  book  On  the  Gods,  which  began:  "With  regard  to  the 
gods,  I  cannot  feel  sure  either  that  they  are  or  that  they  are  not, 
nor  what  they  are  like  in  figure;  for  there  are  many  things  that 
hinder  sure  knowledge,  the  obscurity  of  the  subject  and  the 
shortness  of  human  life." 

His  second  visit  to  Athens  is  described  somewhat  satirically  in 
Plato's  Protagoras,  and  his  doctrines  are  discussed  seriously  in 
the  Theaetetus.  He  is  chiefly  noted  for  his  doctrine  that  "Man  is 
the  measure  of  all  things,  of  things  that  are  that  they  are,  and  of 
things  that  are  not  that  they  are  not."  This  is  interpreted  as 
meaning  that  each  man  is  the  measure  of  all  things,  and  that, 
when  men  differ,  there  is  no  objective  truth  in  virtue  of  which 
one  is  right  and  the  other  wrong.  The  doctrine  is  essentially 
sceptical,  and  is  presumably  based  on  the  "deceitfulness"  of  the 
senses. 

One  of  the  three  founders  of  pragmatism,  F.  C.  S.  Schiller,  was 
in  the  halm  of  calling  himself  a  disciple  of  Protagoras.  This  was, 
I  think,  because  Plato,  in  the  Thcaetetus,  suggests,  as  an  interpre- 
tation of  Protagoras,  that  one  opinion  can  be  better  than  another, 
though  it  cannot  be  truer.  For  example,  when  a  man  has  jaundice 
everything  looks  yellow.  There  is  no  sense  in  saying  that  things 
are  really  not  yellow,  but  the  colour  they  look  to  a  man  in  health; 
we  can  say,  however,  that,  since  health  is  better  than  sickness, 
the  opinion  of  the  man  in  health  is  better  than  that  of  the  man 
who  has  jaundice.  This  point  of  view,  obviously,  is  akin  to 
pragmatism. 

The  disbelief  in  objective  truth  makes  the  majority,  for  practical 
puqxiscs,  the  arbiters  as  to  what  to  believe.  Hence  Protagoras  was 
led  to  a  defence  of  law  and  convention  and  traditional  morality. 
While,  as  we  saw,  he  did  not  know  whether  the  gods  existed,  he 
was  sure  they  ought  to  be  worshipped.  This  point  of  view  is 
obviously  the  right  one  for  a  man  whose  theoretical  scepticism  is 
thoroughgoing  and  logical. 

97  D 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL    THOUGHT 

Protagoras  spent  his  adult  life  in  a  sort  of  perpetual  lecture  tour 
through  the  cities  of  Greece,  teaching,  for  a  fee,  "any  one  who 
desired  practical  efficiency  and  higher  mental  culture"  (Zeller, 
p.  1299).  Plato  objects — somewhat  snobbishly,  according  to  modern 
notions — to  the  Sophists'  practice  of  charging  money  for  instruc- 
tion. Plato  himself  had  adequate  private  means,  and  was  unable, 
apparently,  to  realize  the  necessities  of  those  who  had  not  his  good 
fortune.  It  is  odd  that  modern  professors,  who  see  no  reason  to 
refuse  a  salary,  have  so  frequently  repeated  Plato's  strictures. 

There  was,  however,  another  point  in  which  the  Sophists  differed 
from  most  contemporary  philosophers.  It  was  usual,  except  among 
the  Sophists,  for  a  teacher  to  found  a  school,  which  had  some  of 
the  properties  of  a  brotherhood;  there  was  a  greater  or  smaller 
amount  of  common  life,  there  was  often  something  analogous  to 
a  monastic  rule,  and  there  was  usually  an  esoteric  doctrine  not 
proclaimed  to  the  public.  All  this  was  natural  wherever  philosophy 
had  arisen  out  of  Orphism.  Among  the  Sophists  there  was  none 
of  this.  What  they  had  to  teach  was  not,  in  their  minds,  connected 
with  religion  or  virtue.  They  taught  the  art  of  arguing,  and  as 
much  knowledge  as  would  help  in  this  an.  Broadly  speaking,  they 
were  prepared,  like  modern  lawyers,  to  show  how  to  ar^ue  for 
or  against  any  opinion,  and  were  not  concerned  to  advocate  con- 
clusions of  their  own.  Those  to  whom  philosophy  was  a  way  of 
life,  closely  bound  up  with  religion,  were  naturally  shocked;  to 
them,  the  Sophists  appeared  frivolous  and  immoral. 

To  some  extent — though  it  is  impossible  to  say  how  far— the 
odium  which  the  Sophists  incurred,  not  only  with  the  general 
public,  but  with  Plato  and  subsequent  philosophers,  was  due  to 
their  intellectual  merit.  The  pursuit  of  truth,  when  it  is  whole- 
hearted, must  ignore  moral  considerations;  we  cannot  know  in 
advance  that  the  truth  will  turn  out  to  be  what  is  thought  edifying 
in  a  given  society.  The  Sophists  were  prepared  to  follow  an  argu- 
ment wherever  it  might  lead  them.  Often  it  led  them  to  scepticism. 
One  of  them,  Gorgias,  maintained  that  nothing  exists;  that  if 
anything  exists,  it  is  unknowable;  and  granting  it  even  to  exist 
and  la  be  knowable  by  any  one  man,  he  could  never  communicate 
it  to  others.  We  do  not  know  what  hLs  arguments  were,  but  I  can 
well  imagine  that  they  had  a  logical  force  which  compelled  his 
opponents  to  take  refuge  in  edification.  Plato  u?  always  concerned 
to  advocate  views  that  \\ill  make  people  wliat  he  thinks  virtuous; 

98 


PROTAGORAS 

he  is  hardly  ever  intellectually  honest,  because  he  allows  himself 
to  judge  doctrines  by  their  social  consequences.  Even  about  this, 
he  is  not  honest;  he  pretends  to  follow  the  argument  and  to  be 
judging  by  purely  theoretical  standards,  when  in  fact  he  is  twist- 
ing the  discussion  so  as  to  lead  to  a  virtuous  result.  He  introduced 
this  vice  into  philosophy,  where  it  has  persisted  ever  since.  It 
was  probably  largely  hostility  to  the  Sophists  that  gave  this, 
character  to  his  dialogues.  One  of  the  defects  of  all  philosophers 
since  Plato  is  that  their  inquiries  into  ethics  proceed  on  the 
assumption  that  they  already  know  the  conclusions  to  be  reached. 

It  seems  that  there  were  men,  in  the  Athens  of  the  late  fifth 
century,  who  taught  political  doctrines  which  seemed  immoral  to 
their  contemporaries,  and  seem  so  to  the  democratic  nations  of 
the  present  day.  Thrasymachus,  in  the  first  book  of  the  Republic, 
argues  that  there  is  no  justice  except  the  interest  of  the  stronger; 
that  laws  are  made  by  governments  for  their  own  advantage;  and 
that  there  is  no  impersonal  standard  to  which  to  appeal  in  contests 
for  power,  Callicles,  according  to  Plato  (in  the  Gorgtas),  maintained 
a  similar  doctrine.  The  law  of  nature,  he  said,  is  the  law  of  the 
stronger;  but  for  convenience  men  have  established  institutions 
and  moral  precepts  to  restrain  the  strong.  Such  doctrines  have 
won  much  wider  assent  in  our  day  than  they  did  in  antiquity. 
And  whatever  may  be  thought  of  them,  they  are  not  characteristic 
of  the  Sophists. 

During  the  fifth  century — whatever  part  the  Sophists  may  have 
had  in  the  change- — there  was  in  Athens  a  transformation  from  a 
certain  stiff  Puritan  simplicity  to  a  quick-witted  and  rather  cruel 
cynicism  in  conflict  with  a  slow-witted  and  equally  cruel  defence 
of  crumbling  orthodoxy.  At  the  beginning  of  the  century  comes 
the  Athenian  championship  of  the  cities  of  Ionia  against  the 
Persians,  and  the  victory  of  Marathon  in  490  B.C.  At  the  end 
comes  the  defeat  of  Athens  by  Sparta  in  404  B.C.,  and  the  execu- 
tion of  Socrates  in  3^9  B.C.  After  this  time  Athens  ceased  to  be 
politically  important,  but  acquired  undoubted  cultural  supremacy, 
which  it  retained  until  the  victory  of  Christianity. 

Something  of  the  history  of  fifth-century 
the  understanding  of  Plato  and  of  all  subsec 
In  the  first  Persian  war,  the  chief  glory 
owing  to  the  decisfvc  victor}'  at  Marathor 
years  later^  the  Athenians  still  were  the 

99 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL    THOUGHT 

but  on  land  victory  was  mainly  due  to  the  Spartans,  who  were  the 
acknowledged  leaders  of  the  Hellenic  world.  The  Spartans,  how- 
ever, were  narrowly  provincial  in  their  outlook,  and  ceased  to 
oppose  the  Persians  when  they  had  been  chased  out  of  European 
Greece.  The  championship  of  the  Asiatic  Greeks,  and  the  libera- 
tion of  the  islands  that  had  been  conquered  by  the  Persians,  was 
undertaken,  with  great  success,  by  Athens.  Athens  became  the 
leading  sea  power,  and  acquired  a  considerable  imperialist  control 
over  the  Ionian  islands.  Under  the  leadership  of  Pericles,  who  was 
a  moderate  democrat  and  a  moderate  imperialist,  Athens  prospered. 
The  great  temples,  whose  ruins  are  still  the  glory  of  Athens,  were 
built  by  his  initiative,  to  replace  those  destroyed  by  Xerxes.  The 
city  increased  very  rapidly  in  wealth,  and  also  in  culture,  and,  as 
invariably  happens  at  such  times,  particularly  when  wealth  is  due 
to  foreign  commerce,  traditional  morality  and  traditional  beliefs 
decayed. 

There  was  at  this  time  in  Athens  an  extraordinarily  large 
number  of  men  of  genius.  The  three  great  dramatists,  Aeschylus, 
Sophocles,  and  Euripides,  all  belong  to  the  fifth  century.  Aeschylus 
fought  at  Marathon  and  saw  the  battle  of  Salamis.  Sophocles  was 
still  religiously  orthodox.  But  Euripides  was  influenced  by  Prota- 
goras and  by  the  free-thinking  spirit  of  the  time,  and  his  treatment 
of  the  myths  is  sceptical  and  subversive.  Aristophanes,  the  comic 
poet,  made  fun  of  Socrates,  Sophists,  and  philosophers,  but, 
nevertheless,  belonged  to  their  circle;  in  the  Symposium  Plato 
represents  him  as  on  very  friendly  terms  with  Socrates.  Pheidias 
the  sculptor,  as  we  have  seen,  belonged  to  the  circle  of  Pericles. 

The  excellence  of  Athens,  at  this  period,  was  artistic  rather 
than  intellectual.  None  of  the  great  mathematicians  or  philosophers 
of  the  fifth  century  were  Athenians,  with  the  exception  of  Socrates ; 
and  Socrates  was  not  a  writer,  but  a  man  who  confined  himself 
to  oral  discussion. 

The  outbreak  of  the  Pcloponncsian  War  in  431  B.C.  and  t he- 
death  of  Pericles  in  429  B.C.  introduced  a  darker  period  in  Athenian 
history.  The  Athenians  were  superior  at  sea,  but  the  Spartans 
had  supremacy  on  land,  and  repeatedly  occupied  Attica  (except 
Athens)  during  the  summer.  The  result  was  that  Athens  was  over- 
crowded, and  suffered  severely  from  the  plague.  In  414  B.C.  the 
Athenians  sent  a  large  expedition  to  Sicily,  in  the  hope  of  capturing 
Syracuse,  which  was  aljied  with  Sparta;  but  the  attempt  was  a 

100 


PROTAGORAS 

failure.  War  made  the  Athenians  fierce  and  persecuting.  In  416  B.C. 
they  conquered  the  island  of  Melos,  put  to  death  all  men  of 
military  age  and  enslaved  the  other  inhabitants.  The  Trojan 
Women  of  Euripides  is  a  protest  against  such  barbarism.  The 
conflict  had  an  ideological  aspect,  since  Sparta  was  the  champion 
of  oligarchy  and  Athens  of  democracy.  The  Athenians  had  reason 
to  suspect  some  of  their  own  aristocrats  of  treachery,  which  was 
generally  thought  to  have  had  a  part  in  the  final  naval  defeat  at 
the  battle  of  Acgospotami  in  405  B.C. 

At  the  end  of  the  war,  the  Spartans  established  in  Athens  an 
oligarchical  government,  known  as  the  Thirty  Tyrants.  Some  of 
the  Thirty,  including  Critias,  their  chief,  had  been  pupils  of 
Socrates.  They  were  deservedly  unpopular,  and  were  overthrown 
within  a  year.  With  the  compliance  of  Sparta,  democracy  was 
restored,  but  it  was  an  embittered  democracy,  precluded  by  an 
amnesty  from  direct  vengeance  against  its  internal  enemies,  but 
glad  of  any  pretext,  not  covered  by  the  amnesty,  for  prosecuting 
them.  It  was  in  this  atmosphere  that  the  trial  and  death  of  Socrates 
took  place-  (3W  n.r.). 


101 


Part  2. — Socrates,  Plato,  and  Aristotle 

Chapter  XI 
SOCRATES 

SOCRATES  is  a  very  difficult  subject  for  the  historian.  There 
are  many  men  concerning  whom  it  is  certain  that  very  little 
is  known,  and  other  men  concerning  whom  it  is  certain  that 
a  great  deal  is  known;  but  in  the  case  of  Socrates  the  uncertainty 
is  as  to  whether  we  kno\v  very  little  or  a  great  deal.  He  was  un- 
doubtedly an  Athenian  citizen  of  moderate  means,  who  spent  his 
time  in  disputation,  and  taught  philosophy  to  the  young,  but  not 
for  money,  like  the  Sophists.  lie  was  certainly  tried,  condemned 
to  death,  and  executed  in  399  B.C.,  at  about  the  ape  of  seventy. 
He  was  unquestionably  a  well-known  figure  in  Athens,  since 
Aristophanes  caricatured  him  in  The  Clouds.  But  beyond  this 
point  we  become  involved  in  controversy.  Two  of  his  pupils, 
Xenophon  and  Plato,  wrote  voluminously  about  him,  but  they 
said  very  different  things.  Even  when  they  agree,  it  has  been 
suggested  by  Burnet  that  Xenophon  is  copying  Plato.  Where  they 
disagree,  some  believe  the  one,  some  the  other,  some  neither.  In 
such  a  dangerous  dispute,  I  shall  not  venture  to  take  sides,  but  I 
will  set  out  briefly  the  various  points  of  view. 

Let  us  begin  with  Xenophon,  a  military  man,  not  very  lilnrrally 
endowed  with  brains,  and  on  the  whole  conventional  in  his  out- 
look. Xenophon  is  pained  that  Socrates  should  have  been  accused 
of  impiety  and  of  corrupting  the  youth;  he  contends  that,  on  the 
cont ran\  Socrates  was  eminently  pious  and  had  a  thoroughly 
wholesome  effect  upon  those  who  came  under  his  influence.  His 
ideas,  it  appears,  so  far  from  being  subversive,  were  rather  dull 
and  commonplace.  This  defence  goes  too  far,  since  it  leaves  the 
hostility  to  Socrates  unexplained.  As  Burnet  says  (Tliaks  to  Plato. 
p.  149):  "Xenophon  *8  defence  of  .Socrates  is  too  successful.  He 
would  never  have  been  put  to  death  if  he  had  been  like  that." 

There  has  been  a  tendency  to  think  that  everything  Xenophon 
gays  must  be  true,  because  he  had  not  the  wits  to  think/if  anything 

102 


SOCRATES 

untrue.  This  is  a  very  invalid  line  of  argument.  A  stupid  man's 
report  of  what  a  clever  man  says  is  never  accurate,  because  he  un- 
consciously translates  what  he  hears  into  something  that  he  can 
understand.  I  would  rather  be  reported  by  my  bitterest  enemy 
among  philosophers  than  by  a  friend  innocent  of  philosophy.  We 
cannot  therefore  accept  what  Xenophon  says  if  it  either  involves 
any  difficult  point  in  philosophy  or  is  part  of  an  argument  to  prove 
that  Socrates  was  unjustly  condemned. 

Nevertheless,  some  of  Xenophon 's  reminiscences  are  very  con- 
vincing. He  tells  (as  Plato  also  does)  how  Socrates  was  continually 
occupied  with  the  problem  of  getting  competent  men  into  positions 
of  power.  He  would  ask  such  questions  as:  "If  I  wanted  a  shoe 
mended,  whom  should  I  employ?"  To  which  some  ingenuous 
youth  would  answer:  "A  shoemaker,  O  Socrates."  He  would  go 
on  to  carpenters,  coppersmiths,  etc.,  and  finally  ask  some  such 
question  as  "who  should  mend  the  Ship  of  State?"  When  he  fell 
into  conflict  with  the  Thirty  Tyrants,  Critias,  their  chief,  who 
knew  his  ways  from  having  studied  under  him,  forbade  him  to 
continue  teaching  the  young,  and  added:  "You  had  better  be 
done  with  your  shoemakers,  carpenters,  and  coppersmiths.  These 
must  be  pretty  well  trodden  out  at  heel  by  this  time,  considering 
the  circulation  you  have  given  them"  (Xenophon,  Memorabilia, 
Ilk.  I,  chap.  ii).  This  happened  during  the  brief  oligarchic 
government  established  by  the  Spartans  at  the  end  of  the  Pelo- 
ponnesian  War.  But  at  most  times  Athens  was  democratic,  so 
much  so  that  even  generals  were  elected  or  chosen  by  lot.  Socrates 
came  across  a  young  man  who  wished  to  become  a  general,  and 
persuaded  him  that  it  would  be  well  to  know  something  of  the 
art  of  war.  The  young  man  accordingly  went  away  and  took  a 
brief  course  in  tactics.  When  he  returned,  Socrates,  after  some 
satirical  praise,  sent  him  back  for  further  instruction  (ibid.,  Bk.  Ill, 
chap.  i).  Another  young  man  he  set  to  learning  the  principles  of 
finance.  He  tried  the  same  sort  of  plan  on  many  people,  including 
the  war  minister;  but  it  was  decided  that  it  was  easier  to  silence 
him  by  means  of  the  hemlock  than  to  cure  the  evils  of  which  he 
complained. 

With  Plato's  account  of  Socrates,  the  difficulty  is  quite  a  different 
one  from  what  it  is  in  the  case  of  Xenophon,  namely,  that  it  is 
very  hard  to  judgc'how  far  Plato  means  to  portray  the  historical 
Socrates,  a'jd  how  far  he  intends  the  person  called  "Socrates"  in 

•03 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

his  dialogues  to  be  merely  the  mouthpiece  of  his  own  opinions. 
Plato,  in  addition  to  being  a  philosopher,  is  an  imaginative  writer 
of  great  genius  and  charm.  No  one  supposes,  and  he  himself  does 
not  seriously  pretend,  that  the  conversations  in  his  dialogues  took 
place  just  as  he  records  them.  Nevertheless,  at  any  rate  in  the 
earlier  dialogues,  the  conversation  is  completely  natural  and  the 
characters  quite  convincing.  It  is  the  excellence  of  Plato  as  a 
writer  of  fiction  that  throws  doubt  on  him  as  a  historian.  His 
Socrates  is  a  consistent  and  extraordinarily  interesting  character, 
far  beyond  the  power  of  most  men  to  invent ;  but  I  think  Plato 
could  have  invented  him.  Whether  he  did  so  is  of  course  another 
question. 

The  dialogue  which  is  most  generally  regarded  as  historical  is 
the  Apology.  This  professes  to  be  the  speech  that  Socrates  made  in 
his  own  defence  at  his  trial — not,  of  course,  a  stenographic  report, 
but  what  remained  in  Plato's  memory  some  years  after  the  event, 
put  together  and  elaborated  with  literary  art.  Plato  was  present 
at  the  trial,  and  it  certainly  seems  fairly  clear  that  what  is  set 
down  is  the  sort  of  thing  that  Plato  remembered  Socrates  as 
saying,  and  that  the  intention  is,  broadly  speaking,  historical. 
This,  with  all  its  limitations,  is  enough  to  give  a  fairly  definite 
picture  of  the  character  of  Socrates. 

The  main  facts  of  the  trial  of  Socrates  are  not  open  to  doubt. 
The  prosecution  was  based  upon  the  charge  that  "  Socrates  is  an 
evil-doer  and  a  curious  person,  searching  into  things  under  the 
earth  and  above  the  heaven;  and  making  the  worse  appear  the 
better  cause,  and  teaching  all  this  to  others."  The  real  ground  of 
hostility  to  him  was,  almost  certainly,  that  he  was  supposed  to 
be  connected  with  the  aristocratic  party;  most  of  his  pupils 
belonged  to  this  faction,  and  some,  in  positions  of  power,  had 
proved  themselves  very  pernicious.  But  this  ground  could  not  be 
made  evident,  on  account  of  the  amnesty.  He  was  found  guilty 
by  a  majority,  and  it  was  then  open  to  him,  by  Athenian  law,  to 
propose  some  lesser  penalty  than  death.  The  judges  had  to  choose, 
if  they  had  found  the  accused  guilty,  between  the  penalty  de- 
manded by  the  prosecution  and  that  suggested  by  the  defence. 
It  was  therefore  to  the  interest  of  Socrates  to  suggest  a  substantial 
penalty,  which  the  court  might  have  accepted  as  adequate.  He, 
however,  proposed  a  fine  of  thirty  minae,  for 'which  some  of  his 
friends  (including  Plato)  were  willing  to  go  surety.  'Vhis  was  so 

104 


SOCRATES 

small  a  punishment  that  the  court  was  annoyed,  and  condemned 
him  to  death  by  a  larger  majority  than  that  which  had  found  him 
guilty.  Undoubtedly  he  foresaw  this  result.  It  is  clear  that  he  had 
no  wish  to  avoid  the  death  penalty  by  concessions  which  might 
seem  to  acknowledge  his  guilt. 

The  prosecutors  were  Anytus,  a  democratic  politician;  Meletus, 
a  tragic  poet,  "youthful  and  unknown,  with  lanky  hair,  and  scanty 
beard,  and  a  hooked  nose";  and  Lykon,  an  obscure  rhetorician. 
(See  Burnet,  Thales  to  Plato,  p.  180.)  They  maintained  that 
Socrates  was  guilty  of  not  worshipping  the  gods  the  State  wor- 
shipped but  introducing  other  new  divinities,  and  further  that 
he  was  guilty  of  corrupting  the  young  by  teaching  them  accordingly. 

Without  further  troubling  ourselves  with  the  insoluble  question 
of  the  relation  of  the  Platonic  Socrates  to  the  real  man,  let  us  see 
what  Plato  makes  him  say  in  answer  to  this  charge. 

Socrates  begins  by  accusing  his  prosecutors  of  eloquence,  and 
rebutting  the  charge  of  eloquence  as  applied  to  himself.  The  only 
eloquence  of  which  he  is  capable,  he  says,  is  that  of  truth.  And 
they  must  not  be  angry  with  him  if  he  speaks  in  his  accustomed 
manner,  not  in  "a  set  oration,  duly  ornamented  with  words  and 
phrases/*1  He  is  over  seventy,  and  has  never  appeared  in  a  court 
of  law  until  now;  they  must  therefore  pardon  his  un-forensic  way 
of  speaking. 

lie  goes  on  to  say  that,  in  addition  to  his  formal  accusers,  he  has 
a  large  body  of  informal  accusers,  who,  ever  since  the  judges  were 
children,  have  gone  about  "telling  of  one  Socrates,  a  wise  man, 
who  speculated  about  the  heavens  above,  and  searched  into  the 
earth  beneath,  and  made  the  worse  appear  the  better  cause."  Such 
men,  he  says,  are  supposed  not  to  believe  in  the  existence  of  the 
Htnls.  This  old  accihsation  by  public  opinion  is  more  dangerous 
than  the  formal  indictment,  the  more  so  as  he  does  not  know 
who  are  the  men  from  whom  it  comes,  except  in  the  case  of 
Aristophanes.2  He  points  out,  in  reply  to  these  older  grounds  of 
hostility,  that  he  is  not  a  man  of  science — "I  have  nothing  to  do 
with  physical  speculations" — that  he  is  not  a  teacher,  and  does 
not  take  money  for  teaching.  He  goes  on  to  make  fun  of  the 
Sophist*,  and  to  disclaim  the  knowledge  that  they  profess  to  have. 

1  In  quotations  frapi  Plato,  I  have  generally  used  Jowett's  translation. 
•  In  Tkf  Clouds,  Socrates  is  represented  as  denying  the  existence  of 
Zeus.  , 

105 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

What,  then,  is  "the  reason  why  I  am  called  wise  and  have  such 
an  evil  fame?1' 

The  oracle  of  Delphi,  it  appears,  was  once  asked  if  there  were 
any  man  wiser  than  Socrates,  and  replied  that  there  was  not. 
Socrates  professes  to  have  been  completely  puz/led,  since  he  knew 
nothing,  and  yet  a  god  cannot  lie.  He  therefore  went  about  among 
men  reputed  wise,  to  see  whether  he  could  convict  the  god  of 
error.  First  he  went  to  a  politician,  who  "was  thought  wise  by 
many,  and  still  wiser  by  himself.*'  He  soon  found  that  the  man 
was  not  wise,  and  explained  this  to  him,  kindly  but  firmly,  "and 
the  consequence  was  that  he  hated  me."  He  then  went  to  the 
poets,  and  asked  them  to  explain  passages  in  their  writings,  but 
they  were  unable  to  do  so.  "Then  I  knew  that  not  by  wisdom  do 
poets  write  poetry,  but  by  a  sort  of  genius  and  inspiration.1'  Then 
he  went  to  the  artisans,  but  found  them  equally  disappointing. 
In  the  process,  he  says,  he  made  many  dangerous  enemies.  Finally 
he  concluded  that  "God  only  is  wise;  and  by  his  answer  he  intends 
to  show  that  the  wisdom  of  men  is  worth  little  or  nothing;  he  is 
not  speaking  of  Socrates,  he  is  only  using  my  name  by  way  of 
illustration,  as  if  he  said,  He,  O  men,  is  the  wisest,  who,  like 
Socrates,  knows  that  his  wisdom  is  in  truth  worth  nothing."  This 
business  of  shoeing  up  pretenders  to  wisdom  takes  up  all  his  time, 
and  has  left  him  in  utter  poverty,  but  he  feels  it  a  duty  to  vindicate 
the  oracle. 

Young  men  of  the  richer  classes,  he  says,  having  not  much  to 
do,  enjoy  listening  to  him  exposing  people,  and  proceed  to  do 
likewise,  thus  increasing  the  number  of  his  enemies.  ''For  they 
do  not  like  to  confess  that  their  pretence  of  knowledge  has  been 
detected." 

So  much  for  the  first  class  of  accusers. 

Socrates  now  proceeds  to  examine  his  prosecutor  Mektus.  "that 
good  man  and  true  lover  of  his  country,  as  he  calls  himself."  He 
asks  who  are  the  people  who  improve  the  young.  Mclctus  first 
mentions  the  judges;  then,  under  pressure,  is  driven,  step  by  step, 
to  say  that  every  Athenian  except  Socrates  improves  the  young; 
whereupon  Socrates  congratulates  the  city  on  its  good  fortune. 
Next,  he  points  out  that  good  men  are  better  to  live  among  than 
bad  men,  and  therefore  he  cannot  be  so  foolish  as  to  corrupt  his 
fellow-citizens  intentionally  ;  but  if  unintentionally,  then  Mclctus 
should  instruct  him,  not  prosecute  him. 

106 


SOCRATES 

The  indictment  had  said  that  Socrates  not  only  denied  the  gods 
of  the  State,  but  introduced  other  gods  of  his  own ;  Meletus,  how- 
ever, says  that  Socrates  is  a  complete  atheist,  and  adds:  "He  says 
that  the  sun  is  stone  and  the  moon  earth."  Socrates  replies  that 
Meletus  seems  to  think  he  is  prosecuting  Anaxagoras,  whose 
views  may  be  heard  in  the  theatre  for  one  drachma  (presumably 
in  the  plays  of  Euripides).  Socrates  of  course  points  out  that  this 
new  accusation  of  complete  atheism  contradicts  the  indictment, 
and  then  passes  on  to  more  general  considerations. 

The  rest  of  the  Apology  is  essentially  religious  in  tone.  He  has 
been  a  soldier,  and  has  remained  at  his  post,  as  he  was  ordered 
to  do.  Now  "God  orders  me  to  fulfil  the  philosopher's  mission  of 
searching  into  myself  and  other  men,"  and  it  would  be  as  shameful 
to  desert  his  post  now  as  in  time  of  battle.  Fear  of  death  is  not 
wisdom,  since  no  one  knows  whether  death  may  not  be  the  greater 
good.  If  he  were  offered  his  life  on  condition  of  ceasing  to  speculate 
as  he  has  done  hitherto,  he  would  reply:  "Men  of  Athens,  I 
honour  and  love  you ;  but  I  shall  obey  God  rather  than  you,1  and 
while  I  have  life  and  strength  I  shall  never  cease  from  the  practice 
and  teaching  of  philosophy,  exhorting  any  one  whom  I  meet.  .  .  . 
For  know  that  this  is  the  command  of  God;  and  I  believe  that  no 
greater  good  has  ever  happened  in  the  State  than  my  service  to 
the  God."  He  goes  on: 

I  have  something  more  to  say,  at  which  you  may  be  inclined 
to  cry  cnit;  but  I  believe  that  to  hear  me  will  be  good  for  you, 
and  therefore  I  beg  that  you  will  not  cry  out.  I  would  have  you 
know,  that  if  you  kill  such  a  one  as  I  am,  you  will  injure  your- 
selves more  than  you  will  injure  me.  Nothing  will  injure  me, 
not  Meletus  nor  yet  Anytus — they  cannot,  for  a  bad  man  is  not 
permitted  to  injure  a  belter  than  himself.  I  do  not  deny  that 
Anytus  may  perhaps  kill  him,  or  drive  him  into  exile,  or  deprive 
him  of  civil  rights;  and  he  may  imagine,  and  others  may  imagine, 
that  he  is  intlicting  a  great  injury  upon  him:  but  there  I  do  not 
agree.  For  the  evil  of  doing  as  he  is  doing — the  evil  of  unjustly 
taking  away  the  life  of  another — is  greater  far. 

It  is  for  the  sake  of  his  judges,  he  says,  not  for  his  own  sake, 
that  he  is  pleading.  He  is  a  gad-fly,  given  to  the  State  by  God,  and 
it  will  not  be  easy  to  find  another  like  him.  "I  dare  say  you  may 
feel  out  of  temper»(like  a  person  who  is  suddenly  awakened  from 

1  Cf.  Acts,  v,  29. 
107 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL    THOUGHT 

sleep),  and  you  think  that  you  might  easily  strike  me  dead  as 
Anytus  advises,  and  then  you  would  sleep  on  for  the  remainder 
of  your  lives,  unless  God  in  his  care  of  you  sent  you  another 
gad-fly." 

Why  has  he  only  gone  about  in  private,  and  not  given  advice 
on  public  affairs?  "You  have  heard  me  speak  at  sundry  times  and 
in  diverse  places  of  an  oracle  or  sign  which  comes  to  me,  and  is 
the  divinity  which  Meletus  ridicules  in  the  indictment.  This  sign, 
which  is  a  kind  of  voice,  first  began  to  come  to  me  when  I  was  a 
child;  it  always  forbids  but  never  commands  me  to  do  anything 
which  I  am  going  to  do.  This  is  what  deters  me  from  being  a 
politician."  He  goes  on  to  say  that  in  politics  no  honest  man  can 
live  long.  He  gives  two  instances  in  which  he  was  unavoidably 
mixed  up  in  public  affairs:  in  the  first,  he  resisted  the  democracy; 
in  the  second,  the  Thirty  Tyrants,  in  each  case  when  the  authorities 
were  acting  illegally. 

He  points  out  that  among  those  present  are  many  former  pupils 
of  his,  and  fathers  and  brothers  of  pupils ;  not  one  of  these  has 
been  produced  by  the  prosecution  to  testify  that  he  corrupts  the 
young.  (This  is  almost  the  only  argument  in  the  Apology  that  a 
lawyer  for  the  defence  would  sanction.)  He  refuses  to  follow  the 
custom  of  producing  his  weeping  children  in  court,  to  soften  the 
hearts  of  the  judges;  such  scenes,  he  says,  make  the  accused  and 
the  city  alike  ridiculous.  It  is  his  business  to  convince  the  judges, 
not  to  ask  a  favour  of  them. 

After  the  verdict,  and  the  rejection  of  the  alternative  penalty  of 
thirty  minae  (in  connection  with  which  Socrates  names  Plato  as 
one  among  his  sureties,  and  present  in  court),  he  makes  OIK-  final 
speech. 

And  now,  O  men  who  have  condemned  me,  I  would  fain 
prophesy  to  you;  for  I  am  about  to  die,  and  in  the  hour  of  death 
men  are  gifted  with  prophetic  power.  And  I  prophesy  to  you, 
who  are  my  murderers,  that  immediately  after  my  departure 
punishment  far  heavier  than  you  have  inflicted  on  me  will  surely 
await  you.  ...  If  you  think  that  by  killing  men  you  can  prevent 
some  one  from  censuring  your  evil  lives,  you  are  mistaken;  that 
is  not  a  way  of  escape  which  is  either  possible  or  honourable; 
the  easiest  and  the  noblest  way  is  not  to  be  disabling  others,  but 
to  be  improving  yourselves. 

He  then  turns  to  those  of  his  judges  w..^  .«ave  ^voted  for 

108 


SOCRATES 

acquittal,  and  tells  them  that,  in  all  that  he  has  done  that  day,  his 
oracle  has  never  opposed  him,  though  on  other  occasions  it  has 
often  stopped  him  in  the  middle  of  a  speech.  This,  he  says,  "is  an 
intimation  that  what  has  happened  to  me  is  a  good,  and  that  those 
of  us  who  think  death  is  an  evil  are  in  error."  For  either  death  is 
a  dreamless  sleep — which  is  plainly  good — or  the  soul  migrates  to 
another  world.  And  "what  would  not  a  man  give  if  he  might 
converse  with  Orpheus  and  Musaeus  and  Hesiod  and  Homer? 
Nay,  if  this  be  true,  let  me  die  and  die  again."  In  the  next  world, 
he  will  converse  with  others  who  have  suffered  death  unjustly, 
and,  above  all,  lie  will  continue  his  search  after  knowledge.  "In 
another  world  they  do  not  put  a  man  to  death  for  asking  questions: 
assuredly  not.  For  besides  being  happier  than  we  are,  they  will 
be  immortal,  if  what  is  said  is  true.  .  .  . 

"The  hour  of  departure  has  arrived,  and  \ve  go  our  ways — I 
to  die,  ami  you  to  live.  Which  is  better  God  only  knows." 

The  Apology  gives  a  clear  picture  of  a  man  of  a  certain  type:  a 
man  very  sure  of  himself,  high-minded,  indifferent  to  worldly 
success,  believing  that  he  is  guided  by  a  divine  voice,  and  per- 
suaded that  clear  thinking  is  the  most  important  requisite  for  right 
living.  Lxcept  in  this  last  point,  he  resembles  a  Christian  martyr 
or  a  Puritan.  In  the  final  passage,  where  he  considers  what  happens 
after  death,  it  is  impossible  not  to  feel  that  he  firmly  believes  in 
immortality,  and  that  his  professed  uncertainty  is  only  assumed. 
He  is  not  troubled,  like  the  Christians,  by  fears  of  eternal  torment: 
he  has  no  doubt  that  his  life  in  the  next  world  will  be  a  happy 
one.  In  the  PhaeJo,  the  Platonic  Socrates  gives  reasons  for  the 
belief  in  immortality;  whether  these  were  the  reasons  that  in- 
fluenced the  historical  Socrates,  it  is  impossible  to  say. 

There  seems  hardly  any  doubt  that  the  historical  Socrates 
claimed  to  be  guided  by  an  oracle  or  daimon.  Whether  this  was 
analogous  to  what  a  Christian  would  call  the  voice  of  conscience, 
or  whether  it  appeared  to  him  as  an  actual  voice,  it  is  impossible 
to  know.  Joan  of  Arc  was  inspired  by  voices,  which  are  a  common 
symptom  of  insanity.  Socrates  was  liable  to  cataleptic  trances;  at 
least,  that  seems  the  natural  explanation  of  such  an  incident  as 
occurred  once  when  he  was  on  military  service: 

One  morning  he  was  thinking  about  something  which  he  could 
not  resolve;  he  would  not  give  it  up,  but  continued  thinking  from 
early  dawn  until  noon —there  he  stood  fixed  in  thought;  and  at 

109 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

noon  attention  was  drawn  to  him,  and  the  rumour  ran  through 
the  wondering  crowd  that  Socrates  had  been  standing  and  thinking 
about  something  ever  since  the  break  of  day.  At  last,  in  the 
evening  after  supper,  some  lonians  out  of  curiosity  (I  should 
explain  that  this  occurred  not  in  winter  but  in  summer),  brought 
out  their  mats  and  slept  in  the  open  air  that  they  might  watch 
him  and  see  whether  he  would  stand  all  night.  There  he  stood 
until  the  following  morning;  and  with  the  return  of  light  he 
offered  up  a  prayer  to  the  sun,  and  went  his  way  (Symposium,  220). 

This  sort  of  thing,  in  a  lesser  degree,  was  a  common  occurrence 
with  Socrates.  At  the  beginning  of  the  Symposium,  Socrates  and 
Aristodemus  go  together  to  the  banquet,  but  Socrates  drops  behind 
in  a  fit  of  abstraction.  When  Aristodemus  arrives,  Agathon,  the 
host,  says  "what  have  you  done  with  Socrates?"  Aristodemus  is 
astonished  to  find  Socrates  not  with  him;  a  slave  is  sent  to  look 
for  him,  and  finds  him  in  the  portico  of  a  neighbouring  house. 
"There  he  is  fixed,"  says  the  slave  on  his  return,  "ami  when  I 
call  to  him  he  will  not  stir."  Those  who  know  him  well  explain 
that  "he  has  a  way  of  stopping  anywhere  and  losing  himself 
without  any  reason."  They  leave  him  alone,  and  he  enters  when 
the  feast  is  half  over. 

Every  one  is  agreed  that  Socrates  was  very  uply;  he  had  a  snub 
nose  and  a  considerable  paunch ;  he  was  "uglier  than  all  the 
Silenuses  in  the  Satyric  drama"  (Xenophon,  Symposium).  He  was 
always  dressed  in  shabby  old  clothes,  and  went  barefoot  every- 
where. His  indifference  to  heat  and  cold,  hunger  and  thirst, 
amazed  every  one.  Alcihiades  in  the  Symposium,  describing 
Socrates  on  military  sen-ice,  says: 

His  endurance  was  simply  marvellous  when,  beins;  cut  off  from 
our  supplies,  we  were  compelled  to  go  without  food  -on  such 
occasions,  which  often  happen  in  time  of  war,  he  was  superior 
not  only  to  me  but  to  everybody:  there  was  no  one  to  be  com- 
pared to  him.  ...  His  fortitude  in  enduring  cold  was  also 
surprising.  There  was  a  severe  frost,  for  the  winter  in  that  region 
is  really  tremendous,  and  everybody  else  cither  remained  indoors 
or  if  they  went  out  had  on  an  amazing  quantity  of  clothes,  and 
were  well  shod,  and  had  their  feet  swathed  in  felt  and  fleeces: 
in  the  midst  of  this,  Socrates  with  his  bare  feet  on  the  ice  and  in 
his  ordinary  dress  marched  better  than  the  other  soldiers  who 
had  shoes  and  they  looked  daggers  at  him  because  he  seemed 
to  despise  them. 

no 


SOCRATES 

His  mastery  over  all  bodily  passions  is  constantly  stressed.  He 
seldom  drank  wine,  but  when  he  did,  he  could  out-drink  anybody; 
no  one  had  ever  seen  him  drunk.  In  love,  even  under  the  strongest 
temptations,  he  remained  "Platonic,"  if  Plato  is  speaking  the  truth. 
He  was  the  perfect  Orphic  saint:  in  the  dualism  of  heavenly  soul 
and  earthly  body,  he  had  achieved  the  complete  mastery  of  the 
soul  over  the  body.  His  indifference  to  death  at  the  last  is  the 
final  proof  of  this  mastery.  At  the  same  time,  he  is  not  an  orthodox 
Orphic;  it  is  only  the  fundamental  doctrines  that  he  accepts,  not 
the  superstitions  and  ceremonies  of  purification. 

The  Platonic  Socrates  anticipates  both  the  Stoics  and  the  Cynics. 
The  Stoics  held  that  the  supreme  good  is  virtue,  and  that  a  man 
cannot  be  deprived  of  virtue  by  outside  causes ;  this  doctrine  is 
implicit  in  the  contention  of  Socrates  that  his  judges  cannot  harm 
him.  The  Cynics  despised  worldly  goods,  and  showed  their  con- 
tempt by  eschewing  the  comforts  of  civilization;  this  is  the  same 
point  of  view  that  led  Socrates  to  go  barefoot  and  ill-clad. 

It  seems  fairly  certain  that  the  preoccupations  of  Socrates  were 
ethical  rather  than  scientific.  In  the  Apology,  as  we  saw,  he  says: 
*4I  have  nothing  to  do  with  physical  speculations."  The  earliest 
of  the  Platonic  dialogues,  which  are  generally  supposed  to  be  the 
most  Socratic,  are  mainly  occupied  with  the  search  for  definitions 
of  ethical  terms.  The  Charmides  is  concerned  with  the  definition 
of  temj>erance  or  moderation ;  the  Lysis  with  friendship ;  the  Laches 
with  courage.  In  all  of  these,  no  conclusion  is  arrived  at,  but 
Socrates  makes  it  clear  that  he  thinks  it  important  to  examine 
such  questions.  The  Platonic  Socrates  consistently  maintains  that 
fie  knows  nothing,  and  is  only  wiser  than  others  in  knowing  that 
he  knows  nothing ;  but  he  does  not  think  knowledge  unobtainable. 
On  the  contrary,  he  thinks  the  search  for  knowledge  of  the  utmost 
importance.  He  maintains  that  no  man  sins  wittingly,  and  there- 
fore only  knowledge  is  needed  to  make  all  men  perfectly  virtuous. 

The  close  connection  between  virtue  and  knowledge  is  charac- 
teristic of  Socrates  and  Plato.  To  some  degree,  it  exists  in  all 
Greek  thought,  as  opposed  to  that  of  Christianity.  In  Christian 
ethics,  a  pure  heart  is  the  essential,  and  is  at  least  as  likely  to  be 
found  among  the  ignorant  as  among  the  learned.  This  difference 
between  Greek  and  Christian  ethics  has  persisted  down  to  the 
present  day,  * 

Dialectic,  that  is  to  say,  the  method  of  seeking  knowledge  by 

in 


WESTERN   PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

question  and  answer,  was  not  invented  by  Socrates.  It  seems  to 
have  been  first  practised  systematically  by  Zeno,  the  disciple  of 
Parmenides ;  in  Plato's  dialogue  Parmenides,  Zeno  subjects  Socrates 
to  the  same  kind  of  treatment  to  which,  elsewhere  in  Plato, 
Socrates  subjects  others.  But  there  is  every  reason  to  suppose  that 
Socrates  practised  and  developed  the  method.  As  we  saw,  when 
Socrates  is  condemned  to  death  he  reflects  happily  that  in  the 
next  world  he  can  go  on  asking  questions  for  ever,  and  cannot  be 
put  to  death,  as  he  will  be  immortal.  Certainly,  if  he  practised 
dialectic  in  the  way  described  in  the  Apology,  the  hostility  to  him 
is  easily  explained:  all  the  humbugs  in  Athens  would  combine 
against  him. 

The  dialectic  method  is  suitable  for  some  questions,  and  un- 
suitable for  others.  Perhaps  this  helped  to  determine  the  character 
of  Plato's  inquiries,  which  were,  for  the  most  part,  such  as  could 
be  dealt  with  in  this  way.  And  through  Plato's  influence,  most 
subsequent  philosophy  has  been  bounded  by  the  limitations 
resulting  from  his  method. 

Some  matters  are  obviously  unsuitable  for  treatment  in  this  way 
— empirical  science,  for  example.  It  is  true  that  Galileo  used  dia- 
logues to  advocate  his  theories,  but  that  was  only  in  order  to 
overcome  prejudice — the  positive  grounds  for  his  discoveries 
could  not  be  inserted  in  a  dialogue  without  great  artificiality. 
Socrates,  in  Plato's  works,  always  pretends  that  he  is  only  eliciting 
knowledge  already  possessed  by  the  man  he  is  questioning;  on 
this  ground,  he  compares  himself  to  a  midwife.  When,  in  the 
Phaedo  and  the  Afeno,  he  applies  his  method  to  geometrical 
problems,  he  has  to  ask  leading  questions  which  any  judge  would 
disallow.  The  method  is  in  harmony  with  the  doctrine  of  reminis- 
cence, according  to  which  we  learn  by  remembering  what  we  knew 
in  a  former  existence.  As  against  this  view,  consider  any  discovery 
that  has  been  made  by  means  of  the  microscope,  say  the  spread 
of  diseases  by  bacteria;  it  can  hardly  be  maintained  that  such 
knowledge  can  be  elicited  from  a  previously  ignorant  person  by 
the  method  of  question  and  answer. 

The  matters  that  are  suitable  for  treatment  by  the  Socrattc 
method  are  those  as  to  which  we  have  already  enough  knowledge 
to  come  to  a  right  conclusion,  but  have  failed,  through  confusion 
of  thought  or  lack  of  analysis,  to  make  the  best  logical  use  of  what 
we  know.  A  question  such  as  "what  is  justice?''  is  eminently  suited 

112 


SOCRATES 

for  discussion  in  a  Platonic  dialogue.  We  all  freely  use  the  words 
"just"  and  "unjust,"  and,  by  examining  the  ways  in  which  we 
use  them,  we  can  arrive  inductively  at  the  definition  that  will  best 
suit  with  usage.  All  that  is  needed  is  knowledge  of  how  the  words 
in  question  are  used.  But  when  our  inquiry  is  concluded,  we  have 
made  only  a  linguistic  discovery,  not  a  discovery  in  ethics. 

We  can,  however,  apply  the  method  profitably  to  a  somewhat 
larger  class  of  cases.  Wherever  what  is  being  debated  is  logical 
rather  than  factual,  discussion  is  a  good  method  of  eliciting  truth. 
Suppose  someone  maintains,  for  example,  that  democracy  is  good, 
hut  persons  holding  certain  opinions  should  not  be  allowed  to 
vote,  we  may  convict  him  of  inconsistency,  and  prove  to  him  that 
at  least  one  of  his  two  assertions  must  be  more  or  less  erroneous. 
Logical  errors  are,  I  think,  of  greater  practical  importance  than 
many  people  believe;  they  enable  their  perpetrators  to  hold  the 
comfortable  opinion  on  every  subject  in  turn.  Any  logically 
coherent  body  of  doctrine  is  sure  to  be  in  part  painful  and  con- 
trary to  current  prejudices.  The  dialectic  method — or,  more 
generally,  the  habit  of  unfettered  discussion — tends  to  promote 
logical  consistency,  and  is  in  this  way  useful.  But  it  is  quite  un- 
availing when  the  object  is  to  discover  new  facts.  Perhaps  "philo- 
sophy*1 might  he  defined  as  the  sum-total  of  those  inquiries  that 
can  he  pursued  by  Plato's  methods.  But  if  this  definition  is 
appropriate,  that  is  because  of  Plato's  influence  upon  subsequent 
philosophers. 


Chapter  XII 
THE   INFLUENCE   OF   SPARTA 

E  •  1O  understand  Plato,  and  indeed  many  later  philosophers, 
I  it  is  necessary  to  know  something  of  Sparta.  Sparta  had 
JL  a  double  effect  on  Greek  thought:  through  the  reality,  and 
through  the  myth.  Each  is  important.  The  reality  enabled  the 
Spartans  to  defeat  Athens  in  war;  the  myth  influenced  Plato's 
political  theory,  and  that  of  countless  subsequent  writers.  The 
myth,  fully  developed,  is  to  be  found  in  Plutarch's  Life  of  Lycurgus\ 
the  ideals  that  it  favours  have  had  a  great  part  in  framing  the 
doctrines  of  Rousseau,  Nietzsche,  and  National  Socialism.1  The 
myth  is  of  even  more  importance,  historically,  than  the  reality ; 
nevertheless,  we  will  begin  with  the  latter.  For  the  reality  was  the 
source  of  the  myth. 

Laconia,  of  which  Sparta,  or  Lacedacmon  was  the  capital, 
occupied  the  south-east  of  the  Peloponnesus.  The  Spartans,  who 
were  the  ruling  race,  had  conquered  the  country  at  the  time  of  the 
Dorian  invasion  from  the  north,  and  had  reduced  the  population 
that  they  found  there  to  the  condition  of  serfs.  These  serfs  were 
called  helots.  In  historical  times,  all  the  land  belonged  to  the 
Spartans,  who,  however,  were  forbidden  by  law  and  custom  to 
cultivate  it  themselves,  both  on  the  ground  that  such  labour  was 
degrading,  and  in  order  that  they  might  always  be  free  for  military 
service.  The  serfs  were  not  bought  and  sold,  but  remained  attached 
to  the  land,  which  was  divided  into  lots,  one  or  more  for  each 
adult  male  Spartan.  These  lots,  like  the  helots,  could  not  be 
bought  or  sold,  and  passed,  by  law,  from  father  to  son.  (They 
could,  however,  be  bequeathed.)  The  landowner  received  from 
the  helot  who  cultivated  the  lot  seventy  medirnni  (about  105 
bushels)  of  grain  for  himself,  twelve  for  his  wife,  and  a  stated 
portion  of  wine  and  fruit  annually  *  Anything  beyond  this  amount 
was  the  property  of  the  helot.  The  helots  were  Greeks,  like  the 
Spartans,  and  bitterly  resented  their  servile  condition.  When  they 
could,  they  rebelled.  The  Spartans  had  a  body  of  secret  police  to 

1  Not  to  mention  Dr.  Thomas  Arnold  and  the  English  public  schools. 
f  Bury,  History  of  Greece,  Vol.  I,  p.  138.  It  wen  is  that  Spartan  men  ate 
nearly  six  times  as  much  as  their  wive*. 

"4 


THE    INFLUENCE   OF    SPARTA 

deal  with  this  danger,  but  to  supplement  this  precaution  they  had 
another:  once  a  year,  they  declared  war  on  the  helots,  so  that  their 
young  men  could  kill  any  who  seemed  insubordinate  without 
incurring  the  legal  guilt  of  homicide.  Helots  could  be  emancipated 
by  the  State,  but  not  by  their  masters;  they  were  emancipated, 
rather  rarely,  for  exceptional  bravery  in  battle. 

At  some  time  during  the  eighth  century  B.C.  the  Spartans  con- 
quered the  neighbouring  country  of  Messenia,  and  reduced  most 
of  its  inhabitants  to  the  condition  of  helots.  There  had  been  a 
lack  of  Lebensraum  in  Sparta,  but  the  new  territory,  for  a  time, 
removed  this  source  of  discontent. 

Lois  were  for  the  common  run  of  Spartans;  the  aristocracy  had 
estates  of  their  own,  whereas  the  lots  were  portions  of  common 
land  assigned  by  the  State. 

The  free  inhabitants  of  other  parts  of  Laconia,  called  "p^rioeci," 
had  no  share  of  political  power. 

The  sole  business  of  a  Spartan  citizen  was  war,  to  which  he  was 
trained  from  birth.  Sickly  children  were  exposed  after  inspection 
by  the  heads  of  the  tribe;  only  those  judged  vigorous  were  allowed 
to  be  reared.  Up  to  the  age  of  twenty,  all  the  boys  were  trained  in 
one  big  school;  the  purpose  of  the  training  was  to  make  them 
hardy,  indifferent  to  pain,  and  submissive  to  discipline.  There 
was  no  nonsense  about  cultural  or  scientific  education;  the  sole 
aim  was  to  produce  good  soldiers,  wholly  devoted  to  the  State. 

At  the  age  of  twenty,  actual  military  service  began.  Marriage 
uas  permitted  to  anyone  over  the  age  of  twenty,  but  until  the 
age  of  thirty  a  man  had  to  live  in  the  "men's  house,"  and  had  to 
manage  his  marriage  as  if  it  were  an  illicit  and  secret  affair.  After 
thirty,  he  was  a  full-fledged  citizen.  Every  citizen  belonged  to  a 
mess,  and  dined  with  the  other  members;  he  had  to  make  a 
contribution  in  kind  from  the  produce  of  his  lot.  It  was  the  theory 
of  the  State  that  no  Spartan  citizen  should  be  destitute,  and  none 
should  be  rich.  Each  was  expected  to  live  on  the  produce  of  his 
lot,  which  lie  could  not  alienate  except  by  free  gift.  None  was 
allowed  to  own  gold  or  silver,  and  the  money  was  made  of  iron. 
Spartan  simplicity  became  proverbial. 

The  position  of  women  in  Sparta  was  peculiar.  They  were  not 
secluded,  like  respectable  women  elsewhere  in  Greece.  Girls  went 
through  the  same 'physical  training  as  was  given  to  boys;  what  is 
more  remarkable,  boys  and  girls  did  their  gymnastics  together, 

"5 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL    THOUGHT 

all  being  naked.  It  was  desired  (I  quote  Plutarch's  Lycurgus  in 
North's  translation): 

that  the  maidens  should  harden  their  bodies  with  exercise  of 
running,  wrestling,  throwing  the  bar,  and  casting  the  dart,  to  the 
end  that  the  fruit  wherewith  they  might  be  afterwards  con- 
ceived, taking  nourishment  of  a  strong  and  lusty  body,  should 
shoot  out  and  spread  the  better:  and  that  they  by  gathering 
strength  thus  by  exercises,  should  more  easily  away  with  the 
pains  of  child  bearing.  .  .  .  And  though  the  maidens  did  show 
themselves  thus  naked  openly,  yet  was  there  no  dishonesty  seen 
nor  offered,  but  all  this  sport  was  full  of  play  and  toys,  without 
any  youthful  part  or  wantonness. 

Men  who  would  not  marry  were  made  "infamous  by  law/*  and 
compelled,  even  in  the  coldest  weather,  to  walk  up  and  down 
naked  outside  the  place  where  the  young  people  were  doing  their 
exercises  and  dances. 

Women  were  not  allowed  to  exhibit  any  emotion  not  profitable 
to  the  State.  They  might  display  contempt  for  a  coward,  and 
would  be  praised  if  he  were  their  son;  but  they  might  not  show 
grief  if  their  new-born  child  was  condemned  to  death  as  a  weakling, 
or  if  their  sons  were  killed  in  battle.  They  were  considered,  by 
other  Greeks,  exceptionally  chaste;  at  the  same  time,  a  childless 
married  woman  would  raise  no  objection  if  the  State  ordered  her 
to  find  out  whether  some  other  man  would  be  more  successful 
than  her  husband  in  begetting  citizens.  Children  were  encouraged 
by  legislation.  According  to  Aristotle,  the  father  of  three  sons  was 
exempt  from  military  service,  and  the  father  of  four  from  all  the 
burdens  of  the  State. 

The  constitution  of  Sparta  was  complicated.  There  were  two 
kings,  belonging  to  two  different  families,  and  succeeding  by 
heredity.  One  or  other  of  the  kings  commanded  the  army  in  time 
of  war,  but  in  time  of  peace  their  powers  were  limited.  At  com- 
munal feasts  they  got  twice  as  much  to  eat  as  any  one  else,  and 
there  was  general  mourning  when  one  of  them  died.  They  were 
members  of  the  Council  of  Klders,  a  body  consisting  of  thirty 
men  (including  the  kings);  the  other  twenty-eight  must  be  over 
sixty,  and  were  chosen  for  life  by  the  whole  body  of  the  citizens, 
but  only  from  aristocratic  families.  The  Council  tried  criminal 
cases,  and  prepared  matters  which  were  to  'come  before  the 
Assembly.  This  body  (the  Assembly)  consisted  of  all  the  citizens ; 

116 


THE    INFLUENCE   OF    SPARTA 

it  could  not  initiate  anything,  but  could  vote  yes  or  no  to  any 
proposal  brought  before  it.  No  law  could  be  enacted  without 
its  consent.  But  its  consent,  though  necessary,  was  not  sufficient ; 
the  elders  and  magistrates  must  proclaim  the  decision  before  it 
became  valid. 

In  addition  to  the  kings,  the  Council  of  Elders,  and  the 
Assembly,  there  was  a  fourth  branch  of  the  government,  peculiar 
to  Sparta.  This  was  the  five  ephors.  These  were  chosen  out  of  the 
whole  body  of  the  citizens,  by  a  method  which  Aristotle  says  was 
"too  childish,"  and  which  Bury  says  was  virtually  by  lot.  They 
were  a  "democratic11  element  in  the  constitution,1  apparently 
intended  to  balance  the  kings.  Every  month  the  kings  swore  to 
uphold  the  constitution,  and  the  ephors  then  swore  to  uphold  the 
kings  so  long  as  they  remained  true  to  their  oath.  When  either 
king  went  on  a  warlike  expedition,  two  ephors  accompanied  him 
to  watch  over  his  behaviour.  The  ephors  were  the  supreme  civil 
court,  but  over  the  kings  they  had  criminal  jurisdiction. 

The  Spartan  constitution  was  supposed,  in  later  antiquity,  to 
have  been  due  to  a  legislator  named  Lycurgus,  who  was  said  to 
have  promulgated  his  laws  in  885  B.C.  In  fact,  the  Spartan  system 
grew  up  gradually,  and  Lycurgus  was  a  mythical  person,  originally 
a  god.  His  name  meant  "wolf-repcller,"  and  his  origin  was 
Arcadian. 

Sparta  aroused  among  the  other  Greeks  an  admiration  which 
is  to  us  somewhat  surprising.  Originally,  it  had  been  much  less 
different  from  other  Greek  cities  than  it  became  later;  in  early 
days  it  produced  ports  and  artists  as  good  as  those  elsewhere. 
But  about  the  seventh  century  B.C.,  or  perhaps  even  later,  its  con- 
stitution (falsely  attributed  to  Lycurgus)  crystallized  into  the  form 
we  have  been  considering;  everything  else  was  sacrificed  to  success 
in  war,  and  Sparta  ceased  to  have  any  part  whatever  in  what 
Greece  contributed  to  the  civilization  of  the  world.  To  us,  the 
Spartan  State  appears  as  a  model,  in  miniature,  of  the  State  that 
the  Nazis  would  establish  if  victorious.  To  the  Greeks  it  seemed 
otherwise.  As  Bury  says: 

A  stranger  from  Athens  or  Miletus  in  the  fifth  century  visiting 
the  straggling  villages  which  formed  her  unwalled  unpretentious 

1  In  speaking  of  "  Jemocratie"  elements  in  the  Spartan  constitution,  one 
must  of  course  remember  that  the  citizens  as  a  whole  were  a  ruling  class 
fiercely  tyrannizing  over  the  helots,  and  allowing  no  power  to  die  perioeci. 

117 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL    THOUGHT 

city  must  have  bad  a  feeling  of  being  transported  into  an  age 
long  past,  when  men  were  braver,  better  and  simpler,  unspoiled 
by  wealth,. undisturbed  by  ideas.  To  a  philosopher,  like  Plato, 
speculating  in  political  science,  the  Spartan  State  seemed  the 
nearest  approach  to  the  ideal.  The  ordinary  Greek  looked  upon 
it  as  a  structure  of  severe  and  simple  beauty,  a  Dorian  city  stately 
as  a  Dorian  temple,  far  nobler  than  his  own  abode  but  not  so 
comfortable  to  dwell  in.1 

One  reason  for  the  admiration  felt  for  Sparta  by  other  Greeks 
was  its  stability.  All  other  Greek  cities  had  revolutions,  but  the 
Spartan  constitution  remained  unchanged  for  centuries,  except 
for  a  gradual  increase  in  the  powers  of  the  ephors,  which  occurred 
by  legal  means,  without  violence. 

It  cannot  be  denied  that,  for  a  long  period,  the  Spartans  were 
successful  in  their  main  purpose,  the  creation  of  a  race  of  invincible 
warriors.  The  battle  of  Thermopylae  (480  B.C.),  though  technically 
a  defeat,  is  perhaps  the  best  example  of  their  valour.  Thermopylae 
was  a  narrow  pass  through  the  mountains,  where  it  was  hoped 
that  the  Persian  army  could  be  held.  Three  hundred  Spartans, 
with  auxiliaries,  repulsed  all  frontal  attacks.  Hut  at  last  the  Persians 
discovered  a  detour  through  the  hills,  and  succeeded  in  attacking 
the  Greeks  on  both  sides  at  once.  Every  single  Spartan  was  killed 
at  his  post.  Two  men  had  been  absent  on  sick  leave,  suffering 
from  a  disease  of  the  eyes  amounting  almost  to  ternporar}  blind- 
ness. One  of  them  insisted  on  being  led  by  his  helot  to  the  battle, 
where  he  perished;  the  other,  Aristodemus,  decided  that  lie  was 
too  ill  to  fight,  and  remained  absent.  When  he  returned  to  Sparta, 
no  one  would  speak  to  him;  he  was  called  "the  coward  ArLsto- 
demus."  A  year  later,  he  wiped  out  his  disgrace  by  dying  bravely 
at  the  battle  of  Plataea,  where  the  Spartans  were  victorious. 

After  the  war,  the  Spartans  erected  a  memorial  on  the  battlefield 
of  Thermopylae,  saying  only:  "Stranger,  tell  the  Lacedaemonians 
that  we  lie  here,  in  obedience  to  their  orders/' 

For  a  long  time,  the  Spartans  proved  themselves  invincible  on 
land.  They  retained  their  supremacy  until  the  year  371  B.C.,  when 
they  were  defeated  by  the  Thebans  at  the  battle  of  Lcuctra.  This 
was  the  end  of  their  military  greatness. 

Apart  from  war,  the  reality  of  Sparta  was  never  quite  the  same 
as  the  theory.  Herodotus,  who  lived  at  its  great  period,  remarks, 
1  History  of  Greece  t  Vol.  I,  p.  141. 


THE    INFLUENCE   OF    SPARTA 

surprisingly,  that  no  Spartan  could  resist  a  bribe.  This  was  in  spite 
of  the  fact  that  contempt  for  riches  and  love  of  the  simple  life  was 
one  of  the  main  things  inculcated  in  Spartan  education.  We  are 
told  that  the  Spartan  women  were  chaste,  yet  it  happened  several 
times  that  a  reputed  heir  to  the  kingship  was  set  aside  on  the 
ground  of  not  being  the  son  of  his  mother's  husband.  We  are  told 
that  the  Spartans  were  inflexibly  patriotic,  yet  the  king  Pausanias, 
the  victor  of  Plataea,  ended  as  a  traitor  in  the  pay  of  Xerxes. 
Apart  from  such  flagrant  matters,  the  policy  of  Sparta  was  always 
petty  and  provincial.  When  Athens  liberated  the  Greeks  of  Asia 
Minor  and  the  adjacent  islands  from  the  Persians,  Sparta  held 
aloof;  so  long  as  the  Peloponnesus  was  deemed  safe,  the  fate  of 
other  (ireeks  was  a  matter  of  indifference.  Every  attempt  at  a 
confederation  of  the  Hellenic  world  was  defeated  by  Spartan 
particularism. 

Aristotle,  who  lived  after  the  downfall  of  Sparta,  gives  a  very 
hostile  account  of  its  constitution.1  What  he  says  is  so  different 
from  what  other  people  say  that  it  is  difficult  to  believe  he  is 
speaking  of  the  same  place,  e.g.  "The  legislator  wanted  to  make 
the  whole  State  hardy  and  temperate,  and  he  has  carried  out  his 
intention  in  the  case  of  men,  but  he  has  neglected  the  women, 
who  live  in  even*  sort  of  intemperance  and  luxury.  The  conse- 
quence is  that  in  such  a  State  wealth  is  too  highly  valued,  especially 
if  the  citixcns  fall  under  the  dominion  of  their  wives,  after  the 
manner  of  most  warlike  races.  .  .  .  Even  in  regard  to  courage, 
which  is  of  no  use  in  daily  life,  and  is  needed  only  in  war,  the 
influence  of  the  I^iccdaemonian  women  has  been  most  mischievous. 
.  .  .  This  license  of  the  Lacedaemonian  women  existed  from  the 
earliest  times,  and  was  only  what  might  be  expected.  For  .  .  . 
when  I.vcurgus,  as  tradition  says,  wanted  to  bring  the  women 
under  his  laws,  they  resisted,  and  he  gave  up  the  attempt." 

1  le  goes  on  to  accuse  Spartans  of  avarice,  which  he  attributes 
to  the  unequal  distribution  of  property.  Although  lots  cannot  be 
sold,  he  says,  they  can  be  given  or  bequeathed.  Two-fifths  of  all 
the  land,  he  adds,  belongs  to  women.  The  consequence  is  a  great 
diminution  in  the  number  of  citizens:  it  is  said  that  once  there 
were  ten  thousand,  but  at  the  time  of  the  defeat  by  Thebes  there 
were  less  than  one  thousand. 

Aristotle  criticfccs  every  point  of  the  Spartan  constitution.  He 
,  Vol.  II,  Q  ( 126911- 1 270A). 

IK) 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL    THOUGHT 

says  that  the  ephors  are  often  very  poor,  and  therefore  easy  to 
bribe ;  and  their  power  is  so  great  that  even  kings  are  compelled 
to  court  them,  so  that  the  constitution  has  been  turned  into  a 
democracy.  The  ephor?,  we  are  told,  have  too  much  licence,  and 
live  in  a  manner  contrary  to  the  spirit  of  the  constitution,  while 
the  strictness  in  relation  to  ordinary  citizens  is  so  intolerable  that 
they  take  refuge  in  the  secret  illegal  indulgence  of  sensual  pleasures. 

Aristotle  wrote  when  Sparta  was  decadent,  but  on  some  points 
he  expressly  says  that  the  evil  he  is  mentioning  has  existed  from 
early  times.  His  tone  is  so  dry  and  realistic  that  it  is  difficult  to 
disbelieve  him,  and  it  is  in  line  with  all  modern  experience  of  the 
results  of  excessive  severity  in  the  laws.  But  it  was  not  Aristotle's 
Sparta  that  persisted  in  men's  imagination;  it  was  the  mythical 
Sparta  of  Plutarch  and  the  philosophic  idealization  of  Sparta  in 
Plato's  Republic.  Century  after  century,  young  men  read  these 
works,  and  were  fired  with  the  ambition  to  become  Lycurguses 
or  philosopher-kings.  The  resulting  union  of  idealism  and  love  of 
power  has  led  men  astray  over  and  over  again,  and  is  still  doing  so 
in  the  present  day. 

The  myth  of  Sparta,  for  medieval  and  modern  readers,  was 
mainly  fixed  by  Plutarch.  When  he  wrote,  Sparta  belonged  to  the 
romantic  past ;  its  great  period  was  as  far  removed  from  his  time 
as  Columbus  is  from  ours.  What  he  says  must  IK*  treated  with 
great  caution  by  the  historian  of  institutions,  but  to  the  historian 
of  myth  it  is  of  the  utmost  importance.  Greece  has  influenced  the 
world,  always,  through  its  effect  on  men's  imaginations,  ideals, 
and  hopes,  not  directly  through  political  power.  Rome  made  roads 
which  largely  still  survive,  and  la\v>  which  are  the  source  of  many 
modern  legal  codes,  but  it  was  the  armies  of  Rome  that  made  these 
things  important.  The  Greeks,  though  admirable  fighters,  made 
few  conquests,  because  they  expended  their  military  fury  mainly 
on  each  other.  It  was  left  to  the  semi-barbarian  Alexander  to  spread 
Hellenism  throughout  the  Near  Kast,  and  to  make  Greek  the 
literary  language  in  Kgypt  and  Syria  and  the  inland  parts  of  Asia 
Minor.  The  Greeks  could  never  have  accomplished  this  task,  not 
for  lack  of  military  force,  but  owing  to  their  incapacity  for 
political  cohesion.  The  political  vehicles  of  Hellenism  have  always 
been  non-Hellenic;  but  it  was  the  Greek  genius  that  so  inspired 
alien  nations  as  to  cause  them  to  spread  the*  culture  of  those 
whom  they  had  conquered. 

120 


THE    INFLUENCE   OF   SPARTA 

What  is  important  to  the  historian  of  the  world  is  not  the  petty 
wars  between  Greek  cities,  or  the  sordid  squabbles  for  party 
ascendancy,  but  the  memories  retained  by  mankind  when  the 
brief  episode  was  ended— like  the  recollection  of  a  brilliant  sunrise 
in  the  Alps,  while  the  mountaineer  struggles  through  an  arduous 
day  of  wind  and  snow.  These  memories,  as  they  gradually  faded, 
left  in  men's  minds  the  images  of  certain  peaks  that  had  shone 
with  peculiar  brightness  in  the  early  light,  keeping  alive  the 
knowledge  that  behind  the  clouds  a  splendour  still  survived,  and 
might  at  any  moment  become  manifest.  Of  these,  Plato  was  the 
most  important  in  early  Christianity,  Aristotle  in  the  medieval 
Church;  hut  when,  after  the  Renaissance,  men  began  to  value 
political  freedom,  it  was  above  all  to  Plutarch  that  they  turned. 
I  le  influenced  profoundly  the  English  and  French  liberals  of  the 
eighteenth  century,  and  the  founders  of  the  United  States;  he 
influenced  the  romantic  movement  in  Germany,  and  has  con- 
tinued, mainly  by  indirect  channels,  to  influence  German  thought 
down  to  the  present  day.  In  some  ways  his  influence  was  good, 
in  some  bad;  as  regards  Lycurgus  and  Sparta,  it  was  bad.  What 
he  has  to  say  about  Lycurgus  is  important,  and  I  shall  give  a  brief 
account  of  it,  even  at  the  cost  of  some  repetition. 

Lycurgus — so  Plutarch  says — having  resolved  to  give  laws  to 
Sparta,  travelled  widely  in  order  to  study  different  institutions. 
He  liked  the  laws  of  Crete,  which  were  "very  straight  and  severe,"1 
but  disliked  tho.se  of  Ionia,  where  there  were  "superfluities  and 
vanities.*'  In  Kgypt  he  learned  the  advantage  of  separating  the 
soldiers  from  the  rest  of  the  people,  and  afterwards,  having 
returned  from  his  travels,  "brought  the  practice  of  it  into  Sparta: 
where  setting  the  merchants,  artificers,  and  labourers  every  one 
a  part  by  themselves,  he  did  establish  a  noble  Commonwealth." 
He  nude  an  equal  division  of  hinds  among  all  the  citizens  of  Sparta 
in  order  to  "banish  out  of  the  city  all  insolvency,  envy,  covetous- 
ness,  and  dcliciousness,  and  also  all  riches  and  poverty."  He  for- 
bade gold  and  silver  money,  allowing  only  iron  coinage,  of  so 
little  value  that  "to  lay  up  thereof  the  value  often  minas,  it  would 
have  occupied  a  whole  cellar  in  a  house."  By  this  means  he 
banished  "all  superfluous  and  unprofitable  sciences,"  since  there 
was  not  enough  money  to  pay  their  practitioners;  and  by  the 
same  law  he  made'all  external  commerce  impossible.  Rhetoricians, 
N  '  In  quoting  Plutarch  I  use  North's  translation. 
121 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL    THOUGHT 

panders,  and  jewellers,  not  liking  the  iron  money,  avoided  Sparta. 
He  next  ordained  that  all  the  citizens  should  eat  together,  and  all 
should  have  the  same  food. 

Lycurgus,  like  other  reformers,  thought  the  education  of  children 
"the  chiefest  and  greatest  matter,  that  a  reformer  of  laws  should 
establish";  and  like  all  who  aim  chiefly  nt  military  power,  he  was 
anxious  to  keep  up  the  birth  rate.  The  M plays,  sports,  and  dances 
the  maids  did  naked  before  young  men,  were  provocations  to  draw 
and  allure  the  young  men  to  marry:  not  as  persuaded  by  geo- 
metrical reasons,  as  saith  Plato,  but  brought  to  it  by  liking,  and  of 
very  love."  The  habit  of  treating  a  marriage,  for  the  first  few  years, 
as  if  it  were  a  clandestine  affair,  "continued  in  both  parties  a  still 
burning  love,  and  a  new  desire  of  the  one  to  the  other" — such,  at 
least,  is  the  opinion  of  Plutarch.  He  goes  on  to  explain  that  a  man 
was  not  thought  ill  of  if,  being  old  and  having  a  young  wife,  he 
allowed  a  younger  man  to  have  children  by  her.  "It  was  lawful 
also  for  an  honest  man  that  loved  another  man's  wife  ...  to  intreat 
her  husband  to  suffer  him  to  lie  with  her,  and  that  he  might  also 
plough  in  that  lusty  ground,  anj  e^t  abroad  the  seed  of  well- 
favoured  children."  There  was  to  be  no  foolish  jealousy,  for 
"Lycurgus  did  not  like  that  children  should  be  private  to  any 
men,  but  that  they  should  be  common  to  the  common  weal:  by 
which  reason  he  would  also,  that  such  as  should  become  citizens 
should  not  be  begotten  of  every  man,  but  of  the  most  honest 
men  only."  He  goes  on  to  explain  that  this  is  the  principle  that 
farmers  apply  to  their  live-stock. 

When  a  child  was  born,  the  father  brought  him  before  the 
elders  of  his  family  to  be  examined:  if  he  was  healthy,  he  was 
given  back  to  the  father  to  he  reared;  if  not,  he  was  thrown  into 
a  deep  pit  of  water.  Children,  from  the  first,  were  subjected  to  a 
severe  hardening  process,  in  some  respects  good — for  example, 
they  were  not  put  in  swaddling  clothes.  At  the  age  of  seven,  boys 
were  taken  away  from  home  and  put  in  a  boarding  school,  where 
they  were  divided  into  companies,  each  under  the  orders  of  one 
of  their  number,  chosen  for  sense  and  courage.  "Touching  learning, 
they  had  as  much  as  served  their  turn:  for  the  rest  of  their  time 
they  spent  in  learning  how  to  obey,  to  away  with  pain,  to  endure 
labour,  to  overcome  still  in  fight."  They  played  naked  together 
most  of  the  time;  after  twelve  years  old,  they  wf>re  no  coals;  they 
were  always  "nasty  and  sluttish,"  and  they  never  bathed  except 

122 


THE    INFLUENCE   OF    SPARTA 

on  certain  days  in  the  year.  They  slept  on  beds  of  straw,  which 
in  winter  they  mixed  with  thistle.  They  were  taught  to  steal,  and 
were  punished  if  caught— not  for  stealing,  but  for  stupidity. 

Homosexual  love,  male  if  not  female,  was  a  recognized 
custom  in  Sparta,  and  had  an  acknowledged  part  in  the  education 
of  adolescent  boys.  A  boy's  lover  suffered  credit  or  discredit  by 
the  boy's  actions;  Plutarch  states  that  once,  when  a  boy  cried  out 
because  he  was  hurt  in  fighting,  his  lover  was  fined  for  the  boy's 
cowardice. 

There  was  little  liberty  at  any  stape  in  the  life  of  a  Spartan. 

Their  discipline  and  order  of  life  continued  still,  after  they 
were  full  grown  men,  For  it  was  not  lawful  for  any  man  to  live 
as  he  listed,  but  they  were  within  tlieir  city,  as  if  they  had  been  in 
a  camp,  where  every  man  knoweth  what  allowance  he  hath  to  live 
withal,  and  what  business  he  hath  else  to  do  in  his  calling.  To  be 
short,  they  were  all  of  this  mind,  that  they  were  not  born  to  serve 
themselves,  but  to  serve  their  country.  .  .  .  One  of  the  best  and 
happit-st  things  which  Lycurpus  ever  brought  into  his  city,  was 
the  preat  rest  and  leisure  which  he  made  his  citizens  to  have,  only 
forhiddini;  them  that  they  should  not  profess  any  vile  or  base 
occupation:  and  they  needed  not  also  to  be  careful  to  get  great 
riches,  in  a  place  where  goods  were  nothing  profitable  nor  esteemed. 
For  the  1  lelots,  which  were  bond  men  made  by  the  wars,  did  till 
their  grounds,  and  yielded  them  a  certain  revenue  every  year. 

Plutarch  goes  on  to  tell  a  story  of  an  Athenian  condemned  for 
idleness,  upon  hearing  of  which  a  Spartan  exclaimed:  "show  me 
the  man  condemned  for  living  nobly  and  like  a  gentleman." 

Lycurijus  (Plutarch  continues)  "did  accustom  his  citizens  so, 
that  they  neither  would  nor  could  live  alone,  but  were  in  manner 
as  men  incorporated  one  with  another,  and  were  always  in  company 
together,  as  the  bees  be  about  their  master  bee." 

Spartans  were  not  allowed  to  travel,  nor  were  foreigners  admitted 
to  Sparta,  except  on  business;  for  it  was  feared  that  alien  customs 
uould  corrupt  Lacedaemonian  virtue. 

Plutarch  relates  the  law  that  allowed  Spartans  to  kill  helots 
whenever  they  felt  so  disposed,  but  refuses  to  believe  that  any- 
thing so  abominable  can  have  been  due  to  Lycurgus.  "For  I 
cannot  be  persuaded,  that  ever  Lycurgus  invented,  or  instituted 
so  wicked  and  mischievous  an  act,  as  that  kind  of  ordinance  was: 
because  I  imagine  his  nature  was  gentle  and  merciful,  by  the 

123 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL    THOUGHT 

clemency  and  justice  we  see  he  used  in-  all  his  other  doings/* 
Except  in  this  matter  Plutarch  has  nothing  but  praise  for  the 
constitution  of  Sparta. 

The  effect  of  Sparta  on  Plato,  with  whom,  at  the  moment,  we 
shall  be  specially  concerned,  will  be  e\ident  from  the  account  of 
his  Utopia,  which  will  occupy  the  next  chapter. 


124 


Chapter  XIII 
THE    SOURCES   OF   PLATO'S   OPINIONS 

PLATO  and  Aristotle  were  the  most  influential  of  all  philo- 
sophers, ancient,  medieval,  or  modern;  and  of  the  two,  it 
was  Plato  who  had  the  greater  effect  upon  subsequent  ages. 
I  say  this  for  two  reasons:  first,  that  Aristotle  himself  is  an  out- 
come of  Plato;  second,  that  Christian  theology  and  philosophy,  at 
any  rate  until  the  thirteenth  century,  was  much  more  Platonic 
than  Aristotelian.  It  is  necessary  therefore,  in  a  history  of  philo- 
sophic thought,  to  treat  Plato,  and  to  a  lesser  degree  Aristotle, 
more  fully  than  any  of  their  predecessors  or  successors. 

The  most  important  matters  in  Plato's  philosophy  are:  fast,  his 
Utopia,  which  was  the  earliest  of  a  long  series;  second,  his  theory 
of  ideas,  which  was  a  pioneer  attempt  to  deal  with  the  still  unsolved 
problem  of  universal*;  third,  his  arguments  in  favour  of  immor- 
tality; fourth,  his  cosmogony;  fifth,  his  conception  of  knowledge 
as  reminiscence  rather  than  perception.  But  before  dealing  with 
any  of  these  topics,  I  shall  say  a  few  words  about  the  circumstances 
of  his  life  and  the  influences  which  determined  his  political  and 
philosophical  opinions. 

Plato  was  born  in  428-7  B.C.,  in  the  early  years  of  the  Pelo- 
ponncsian  War.  He  was  a  well-to-do  aristocrat,  related  to  various 
people  who  were  concerned  in  the  rule  of  the  Thirty  Tyrants.  He 
was  a  young  man  when  Athens  was  defeated,  and  he  could  attribute 
the  defeat  to  democracy,  which  his  social  position  and  his  family 
connections  were  likely  to  make  him  despise.  He  was  a  pupil  of 
Socrates,  for  whom  he  had  a  profound  affection  and  respect;  and 
Socrates  was  put  to  death  by  the  democracy.  It  is  not,  therefore, 
surprising  that  he  should  turn  to  Sparta  for  an  adumbration  of 
his  ideal  commonwealth.  Plato  possessed  the  an  to  dress  up 
illiberal  suggestions  in  such  a  way  that  they  deceived  future  ages, 
which  admired  the  Republic  without  ever  becoming  aware  of  what 
was  involved  in  its  proposals.  It  has  always  been  correct  to  praise 
Plato,  but  not  to  understand  him.  This  is  the  common  fate  of 
great  men.  My  object  is  the  opposite.  I  wish  to  understand  hiiiL 
but  to  treat  him  vrith  as  little  reverence  as  if  he  were  a  corirern- 
porary  Knclish  or  American  advocate  of  totalitarianism.  ,*y?  Or 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL    THOUGHT 

The  purely  philosophical  influences  on  Plato  were  also  such  as 
to  predispose  him  in  favour  of  Sparta.  These  influences,  speaking 
broadly,  were:  Pythagoras,  Parmenides,  Heraclitus,  and  Socrates. 

From  Pythagoras  (whether  by  way  of  Socrates  or  not)  Plato 
derived  the  Orphic  elements  in  his  philosophy:  the  religious  trend, 
the  belief  in  immortality,  the  other-worldliness,  the  priestly  tone, 
and  all  that  is  involved  in  the  simile  of  the  cave;  also  his  respect 
for  mathematics,  and  his  intimate  intermingling  of  intellect  and 
mysticism. 

From  Parmenides  he  derived  the  belief  that  reality  is  eternal 
and  timeless,  and  that,  on  logical  grounds,  all  change*  must  be 
illusory. 

From  Heraclitus  he  derived  the  negative  doctine  that  there  is 
nothing  permanent  in  the  sensible  world.  This,  combined  with  the 
doctrine  of  Parmenides,  led  to  the  conclusion  that  knowledge  is 
not  to  be  derived  from  the  senses,  but  is  only  to  be  achieved  by 
the  intellect.  This,  in  turn,  fitted  in  well  with  Pythagoreanism. 

From  Socrates  he  probably  learnt  his  preoccupation  with 
ethical  problems,  and  his  tendency  to  seek  teleological  rather  than 
mechanical  explanations  of  the  world.  "The  Good"  dominated  his 
thought  more  than  that  of  the  pre-Socratics,  and  it  is  difficult  not 
to  attribute  this  fact  to  the  influence  of  Socrates. 

How  is  all  this  connected  with  authoritarianism  in  politics  ? 

In  the  first  place:  Goodness  and  Reality  being  timeless,  the  best 
State  will  be  the  one  which  most  nearly  copies  the  heavenly  model, 
by  having  a  minimum  of  change  and  a  maximum  of  static  perfec- 
tion, and  its  rulers  should  be  those  who  best  understand  the 
eternal  Good. 

In  the  second  place:  Plato,  like  all  mystics,  has,  in  his  beliefs, 
a  core  of  certainty  which  is  essentially  incommunicable  except  by 
a  way  of  life.  The  Pythagoreans  had  endeavoured  to  set  up  a  rule 
of  the  initiate,  and  this  is,  at  bottom,  what  Plato  desires.  If  a  man 
is  to  be  a  good  statesman,  he  must  know  the  Good;  this  he  can 
only  do  by  a  combination  of  intellectual  and  moral  discipline. 
If  those  who  have  not  gone  through  this  discipline  are  allowed  a 
share  in  the  government,  they  will  inevitably  corrupt  it. 

In  the  third  place:  much  education  is  needed  to  make  a  good 

''er  on  Plato's  principles.  It  seems  to  us  unwise  to  have  insisted 

chtng  geometry  to  the  younger  Dion  VMusJ  tyrant  of  Syracuse, 

r  to  make  him  a  good  king,  but  from  Plato's  point  of  view 

126 


THE   SOURCES   OF    PLATO'S   OPINIONS 

it  was  essential.  He  was  sufficiently  Pythagorean  to  think  that 
without  mathematics  no  true  wisdom  is  possible.  This  view  implies 
an  oligarchy. 

In  the  fourth  place:  Plato,  in  common  with  most  Greek  philo- 
sophers, took  the  view  that  leisure  is  essential  to  wisdom,  which 
will  therefore  not  be  found  among  those  who  have  to  work  for 
their  living,  but  only  among  those  who  have  independent  means 
or  who  are  relieved  by  the  State  from  anxieties  as  to  their  sub- 
sistence. This  point  of  view  is  essentially  aristocratic. 

Two  general  questions  arise  in  confronting  Plato  with  modern 
ideas.  The  first  is:  is  there  such  a  thing  as  "wisdom"?  The  second 
is:  granted  that  there  is  such  a  thing,  can  any  constitution  be 
devised  that  will  give  it  political  power? 

"Wisdom,"  in  the  sense  supposed,  would  not  be  any  kind  of 
specialized  skill,  such  as  is  possessed  by  the  shoemake-  or  the 
physician  or  the  military  tactician.  It  must  be  something  more 
generali/cd  than  this,  since  its  possession  is  supposed  to  make  a 
man  capable  of  governing  wisely.  I  think  Plato  would  have  said 
that  it  consists  in  knowledge  of  the  good,  and  would  have  supple- 
mented this  definition  with  the  Socratic  doctrine  that  no  man 
Mns  wittingly,  from  which  it  follows  that  whoever  knows  what  is 
good  does  what  is  right.  To  us,  such  a  view  seems  remote  from 
reality.  We  should  more  naturally  say  that  there  are  divergent 
interests,  and  that  the  statesman  should  arrive  at  the  best  available 
compromise.  The  members  of  a  class  or  a  nation  may  have  a 
common  interest,  but  it  will  usually  conflict  with  the  interests  of 
other  classes  or  other  nations.  There  are,  no  doubt,  some  interests 
of  mankind  as  a  whole,  but  they  do  not  suffice  to  determine  political 
action.  Perhaps  they  will  do  so  at  some  future  date,  but  certainly 
not  so  long  as  there  are  many  sovereign  States.  And  even  then  the 
most  difficult  part  of  the  pursuit  of  the  general  interest  would 
consist  in  arriving  at  compromises  among  mutually  hostile  special 
interests. 

But  even  if  we  suppose  that  there  is  such  a  thing  as  "wisdom," 
is  there  any  form  of  constitution  which  will  give  the  government 
to  the  wise?  It  is  clear  that  majorities,  like  general  councils,  may 
err,  and  in  fact  have  erred.  Aristocracies  are  not  always  wise;  kings 
are  often  foolish ;  Popes,  in  spite  of  infallibility,  have  committed 
grievous  errors.  Wduld  anybody  advocate  entrusting  the  govern- 
ment to  university  graduates,  or  even  to  doctors  of  divinity?  Or 

127 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

to  men  who,  having  been  born  poor,  have  made  great  fortunes? 
It  is  clear  that  no  legally  definable  selection  of  citizens  is  likely  to 
be  wiser,  in  practice,  than  the  whole  body. 

It  might  be  suggested  that  men  could  be  given  political  wisdom 
by  a  suitable  training.  But  the  question  would  arise:  what  is  a 
suitable  training?  And  this  would  turn  out  to  be  a  party  question. 

The  problem  of  finding  a  collection  of  "wise"  men  and  leaving 
the  government  to  them  is  thus  an  insoluble  one.  That  is  the 
ultimate  reason  for  democracy. 


128 


Chapter  XIV 
PLATO'S   UTOPIA 

PLATO'S  most  important  dialogue,  the  Republic,  consists, 
broadly,  of  three  parts.  The  first  (to  near  the  end  of  Book  V) 
consists  in  the  construction  of  an  ideal  commonwealth ;  it  is 
the  earliest  of  Utopias. 

One  of  the  conclusions  arrived  at  is  that  the  rulers  must  be  philo- 
sophers. Books  VI  and  VII  are  concerned  to  define  the  word 
" philosopher."  This  discussion  constitutes  the  second  section. 

The  third  section  consists  mainly  of  a  discussion  of  various 
kinds  of  actual  constitutions  and  of  their  merits  and  defects. 

The  nominal  purpose  of  the  Republic  is  to  define  "justice."  But 
at  an  early  stage  it  is  decided  that,  since  everything  is  easier  to  see 
in  the  large  than  in  the  small,  it  will  be  better  to  inquire  what 
makes  a  just  State  than  what  makes  a  just  individual.  And  since 
justice  must  be  among  the  attributes  of  the  best  imaginable  State, 
such  a  State  is  first  delineated,  and  then  it  is  decided  which  of  its 
perfections  is  to  be  called  "justice." 

Let  us  first  describe  Plato's  Utopia  in  its  broad  outlines,  and 
then  consider  points  that  arise  by  the  way. 

Plato  begins  by  deciding  that  the  citizens  are  to  be  divided  into 
three  classes:  the  common  people,  the  soldiers,  and  the  guardians. 
'I 'he  last,  alone,  are  to  have  political  power.  There  are  to  be  much 
fewer  of  them  than  of  the  other  two  classes.  In  the  first  instance, 
it  seems,  they  are  to  be  chosen  by  the  legislator;  after  that,  they 
will  usually  succeed  by  heredity,  but  in  exceptional  cases  a  pro- 
mising child  may  be  promoted  from  one  of  the  inferior  classes, 
while  among  the  children  of  guardians  a  child  or  young  man  who 
is  unsatisfactory  may  be  degraded. 

The  main  problem,  as  Plato  perceives,  is  to  insure  that  the 
guardians  shall  carry  out  the  intentions  of  the  legislator.  For  this 
purpose  he  has  various  proposals,  educational,  economic,  biological, 
and  religious.  It  is  not  always  clear  how  far  these  proposals  apply 
to  other  classes  than  the  guardians;  it  is  clear  that  some  of  them 
apply  to  the  soldiers,  but  in  the  main  Plato  is  concerned  only 
with  the  guardians?  who  are  to  be  a  class  apart,  like  the  Jesuits  in 
old  Paraguay,  the  ecclesiastics  in  the  States  of  the  Church  until 

1 19  * 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

1870,  and  the  Communist  Party  in  the  U.S.S.R.  at  the  present  day. 

The  first  thing  to  consider  is  education.  This  is  divided  into 
two  parts,  music  and  gymnastics.  Each  has  a  wider  meaning  than 
at  present:  "music"  means  everything  that  is  in  the  province  of 
the  muses,  and  "gymnastics"  means  everything  concerned  with 
physical  training  and  fitness.  "Music"  is  almost  as  wide  as  what 
we  should  call  "culture/9  and  "gymnastics"  is  somewhat  wider 
than  what  we  call  "athletics." 

Culture  is  to  be  devoted  to  making  men  gentlemen,  in  the  sense 
which,  largely  owing  to  Plato,  is  familiar  in  England.  The  Athens 
of  his  day  was,  in  one  respect,  analogous  to  England  in  the  nine- 
teenth century:  there  was  in  each  an  aristocracy  enjoying  wealth 
and  social  prestige,  but  having  no  monopoly  of  political  power; 
and  in  each  the  aristocracy  had  to  secure  as  much  power  as  it 
could  by  means  of  impressive  behaviour.  In  Plato's  Utopia, 
however,  the  aristocracy  rules  unchecked. 

Gravity,  decorum  and  courage  seem  to  be  the  qualities  mainly 
to  be  cultivated  in  education.  There  is  to  be  a  rigid  censorship 
from  very  early  years  over  the  literature  to  which  the  young  have 
access  and  the  music  they  are  allowed  to  hear.  Mothers  and  nurses 
are  to  tell  their  children  only  authorized  stories.  Homer  and 
Hesiod  are  not  to  be  allowed,  for  a  number  of  reasons.  First  they 
represent  the  gods  as  behaving  badly  on  occasion,  which  is  un- 
edifying;  the  young  must  be  taught  that  evils  never  come  from 
the  gods,  for  God  is  not  the  author  of  all  things,  but  only  of  good 
things.  Second,  there  are  things  in  Homer  and  Hesiod  which  art- 
calculated  to  make  their  readers  fear  death,  whereas  everything 
ought  to  he  done  in  education  to  make  young  people  willing  to 
die  in  battle.  Our  boys  must  be  taught  to  consider  slavery  worse 
than  death,  and  therefore  they  must  have  no  stories  of  good  men 
weeping  and  wailing,  even  for  the  death  of  friends.  Third,  decorum 
demands  that  there  should  never  be  loud  laughter,  and  yet  Homer 
speaks  of  "inextinguishable  laughter  among  the  blessed  gods/' 
How  is  a  schoolmaster  to  reprove  mirth  effectively,  if  boys  can 
quote  this  passage?  Fourth,  there  are  passages  in  Homer  praising 
rich  feasts,  and  others  describing  the  lusts  of  the  gods;  such 
passages  discourage  temperance.  (Dean  Inge,  a  true  Platonist, 
objected  to  a  line  in  a  well-known  hymn:  "The  shout  of  them 
thai  triumph,  the  song  of  them  that  feast/'  which  occurs  in  a 
description  of  die  joys  of  heaven.)  Then  there  must  be  no  stories 

130 


PLATO'S  UTOPIA 

in  which  the  wicked  are  happy  or  the  good  unhappy;  the  moral 
effect  on  tender  minds  might  be  most  unfortunate.  On  all  these 
counts,  the  poets  are  to  be  condemned. 

Plato  passes  on  to  a  curious  argument  about  the  drama.  The 
good  man,  he  says,  ought  to  be  unwilling  to  imitate  a  bad  man; 
now  most  plays  contain  villains;  therefore  the  dramatist,  and  the 
actor  who  plays  the  villain's  part,  have  to  imitate  people  guilty  of 
various  crimes.  Not  only  criminals,  but  women,  slaves,  and 
inferiors  generally,  ought  not  to  be  imitated  by  superior  men. 
(In  Greece,  as  in  Elizabethan  England,  women's  parts  were  acted 
by  men.)  Plays,  therefore,  if  permissible  at  all,  must  contain  no 
characters  except  faultless  male  heroes  of  good  birth.  The  im- 
possibility of  this  is  so  evident  that  Plato  decides  to  banish  all 
dramatists  from  his  city: 

When  any  of  these  pantomimic  gentlemen,  who  are  so  clever 
that  they  can  imitate  anything,  comes  to  us,  and  makes  a  proposal 
to  exhibit  himself  and  his  poetry,  we  will  fall  down  and  worship 
him  as  a  sweet  and  holy  and  wonderful  being;  but  we  must 
also  inform  him  that  in  our  State  such  as  he  are  not  permitted  to 
exist ;  the  law  will  not  allow  them.  And  so  when  we  have  anointed 
him  with  myrrh,  and  set  a  garland  of  wool  upon  his  head,  we  shall 
send  him  away  to  another  city. 

Next  we  come  to  the  censorship  of  music  (in  the  modern  sense). 
The  Lydian  and  Ionian  harmonies  are  to  be  forbidden,  the  first 
because  it  expresses  sorrow,  the  second  because  it  is  relaxed.  Only 
the  Dorian  (for  courage)  and  the  Phrygian  (for  temperance)  are 
to  be  allowed.  Permissible  rhythms  must  be  simple,  and  such  as 
are  expressive  of  a  courageous  and  harmonious  life. 

The  training  of  the  body  is  to  be  very  austere.  No  one  is  to  eat 
fish,  or  meat  cooked  otherwise  than  roasted,  and  there  must  be 
no  sauces  or  confectionery.  People  brought  up  on  his  regimen, 
he  says,  will  have  no  need  of  doctors. 

Up  to  a  certain  age,  the  young  are  to  sec  no  ugliness  or  vice. 
But  at  a  suitable  moment,  they  must  be  exposed  to  "enchant- 
ments/* both  in  the  shape  of  terrors  that  must  not  terrify,  and  of 
bad  pleasures  that  must  not  seduce  the  will.  Only  after  they  have 
withstood  these  tests  will  they  be  judged  fit  to  be  guardians. 

Young  boys,  before  they  are  grown  up,  should  see  war,  though 
they  should  not  themselves  fight. 

As  for  economics:  Plato  proposes  a  thoroughgoing  communism 

'31 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

for  the  guardians,  and  (I  think)  also  for  the  soldiers,  though  this 
is  not  very  clear.  The  guardians  are  to  have  small  houses  and 
simple  food ;  they  are  to  live  as  in  a  camp,  dining  together  in  com- 
panies; they  are  to  have  no  private  property  beyond  what  is 
absolutely  necessary.  Gold  and  silver  are  to  be  forbidden.  Though 
not  rich,  there  is  no  reason  why  they  should  not  be  happy;  but 
the  purpose  of  the  city  is  the  good  of  the  whole,  not  the  happiness 
of  one  class.  Both  wealth  and  poverty  are  harmful,  and  in  Plato's 
city  neither  will  exist.  There  is  a  curious  argument  about  war, 
that  it  will  be  easy  to  purchase  allies,  since  our  city  will  not  want 
any  share  in  the  spoils  of  victory. 

With  feigned  unwillingness,  the  Platonic  Socrates  proceeds  to 
apply  his  communism  to  the  family.  Friends,  he  says,  should 
have  all  things  in  common,  including  women  and  children.  He 
admits  that  this  presents  difficulties,  but  thinks  them  not  insuper- 
able. First  of  all,  girls  are  to  have  exactly  the  same  education  as 
boys,  learning  music,  gymnastics,  and  the  art  of  war  along  with 
the  boys.  Women  are  to  have  complete  equality  with  men  in  all 
respects.  "The  same  education  which  makes  a  man  a  good  guardian 
will  make  a  woman  a  good  guardian ;  for  their  original  nature  is 
the  same."  No  doubt  there  are  differences  between  men  and 
women,  but  they  have  nothing  to  do  with  politics.  Some  women 
are  philosophic,  and  suitable  as  guardians;  some  are  warlike,  and 
could  make  good  soldiers. 

The  legislator,  having  selected  the  guardians,  some  men  and 
some  women,  will  ordain  that  they  shall  all  share  common  houses 
and  common  meals.  Marriage,  as  we  know  it,  will  be  radically 
transformed.1  At  certain  festivals,  brides  and  bridegrooms,  in 
such  numbers  as  are  required  to  keep  the  population  constant, 
mil  be  brought  together,  by  lot,  as  they  will  be  taught  to  believe; 
but  in  fact  the  rulers  of  the  city  will  manipulate  the  lots  on  eugenic 
principles.  They  will  arrange  that  the  best  sires  shall  have  the 
most  children.  All  children  will  be  taken  away  from  their  parents 
at  birth,  and  great  care  will  be  taken  that  no  parents  shall  know 
who  are  their  children,  and  no  children  shall  know  who  are  their 
parents.  Deformed  children,  and  children  of  inferior  parents,  "will 
be  put  away  in  some  mysterious  unknown  place,  as  they  ought  to 
be."  Children  arising  from  unions  not  sanctioned  by  the  State 

1  "These  women  ahull  be,  without  exception,  the  common  wives  of 
these  men,  and  no  one  shall  have  a  wife  of  hit  own." 

'3* 


PLATO'S  UTOPIA 

are  to  be  considered  illegitimate.  Mothers  are  to  be  between 
twenty  and  forty,  fathers  between  twenty-five  and  fifty-five.  Out- 
side these  ages,  intercourse  is  to  be  free,  but  abortion  or  infanticide 
is  to  be  compulsory.  In  the  "marriages"  arranged  by  the  State, 
the  people  concerned  have  no  voice;  they  are  to  be  actuated  by 
the  thought  of  their  duty  to  the  State,  not  by  any  of  those  common 
emotions  that  the  banished  poets  used  to  celebrate. 

Since  no  one  knows  who  his  parents  are,  he  is  to  call  every  one 
"father"  whose  age  is  such  that  he  might  be  his  father,  and 
similarly  as  regards  "mother"  and  "brother"  and  "sister."  (This 
sort  of  thing  happens  among  some  savages,  and  used  to  puzzle 
missionaries.)  There  is  to  be  no  marriage  between  a  "father"  and 
"daughter"  or  "mother"  and  "son" ;  in  general,  but  not  absolutely, 
marriages  of  "brother"  and  "sister"  are  to  be  prevented.  (I  think 
if  Plato  had  thought  this  out  more  carefully  he  would  have  found 
that  he  had  prohibited  all  marriages,  except  the  "brother-sister" 
marriages  which  he  regards  as  rare  exceptions.) 

It  is  supposed  that  the  sentiments  at  present  attached  to  the 
words  "father,"  "mother,"  "son,"  and  "daughter"  will  still  attach 
to  them  under  Plato's  new  arrangements;  a  young  man,  for 
instance,  will  not  strike  an  old  man,  because  he  might  be  striking 
his  father. 

The  advantage  sought  is,  of  course,  to  minimize  private  pos- 
sessive emotions,  and  so  remove  obstacles  to  the  domination  of 
public  spirit,  as  well  as  to  acquiescence  in  the  absence  of  private 
property.  It  was  largely  motives  of  a  similar  kind  that  led  to  the 
celibacy  of  the  clergy.1 

I  come  last  to  the  theological  aspect  of  the  system.  I  am  not 
thinking  of  the  accepted  Greek  gods,  but  of  certain  myths  which 
the  government  is  to  inculcate.  Lying,  Plato  says  explicitly,  is  to 
be  a  prerogative  of  the  government,  just  as  giving  medicine  is  of 
physicians.  The  government,  as  we  have  already  seen,  is  to 
deceive  people  in  pretending  to  arrange  marriages  by  lot,  but  this 
is  not  a  religious  matter. 

There  is  to  be  "one  royal  lie,"  which,  Plato  hopes,  may  deceive 
the  rulers,  but  will  at  any  rate  deceive  the  rest  of  the  city.  This 
"lie"  is  set  forth  in  considerable  detail.  The  most  important  part 
of  it  is  the  dogma  that  God  has  created  men  of  three  kinds,  the 
best  made  of  gold/ the  second  best  of  silver,  and  the  common 
1  Se^  Henry  C.  1-ca,  A  History  of  Sacerdotal  Celibacy. 

133 


WESTERN   PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

herd  of  brass  and  iron.  Those  made  of  gold  are  fit  to  be  guardians ; 
those  made  of  silver  should  be  soldiers;  the  others  should  do  the 
manual  work.  Usually,  but  by  no  means  always,  children  will 
belong  to  the  same  grade  as  their  parents ;  when  they  do  not,  they 
must  be  promoted  or  degraded  accordingly.  It  is  thought  hardly 
possible  to  make  the  present  generation  believe  this  myth,  but  the 
next,  and  all  subsequent  generations,  can  be  so  educated  as  not 
to  doubt  it 

Plato  is  right  in  thinking  that  belief  in  this  myth  could  be 
generated  in  two  generations.  The  Japanese  have  been  taught 
since  1868  that  the  Mikado  is  descended  from  the  sun-goddess, 
and  that  Japan  was  created  earlier  than  the  rest  of  the  world.  Any 
university  professor,  who,  even  in  a  learned  work,  throws  doubt 
on  these  dogmas,  is  dismissed  for  un-Japanese  activities.  What 
Plato  does  not  seem  to  realize  is  that  the  compulsory  acceptance 
of  such  myths  is  incompatible  with  philosophy,  and  involves  a 
kind  of  education  which  stunts  intelligence. 

The  definition  of  "justice/1  which  is  the  nominal  goal  of  the 
whole  discussion,  is  reached  in  Book  IV.  It  consists,  we  are  told, 
in  everybody  doing  his  own  work  and  not  being  a  busybody:  the 
city  is /urt  when  trader,  auxiliary,  and  guardian,  each  does  his 
own  job  without  interfering  with  that  of  other  classes. 

That  everybody  should  mind  his  own  business  is  no  doubt  an 
admirable  precept,  but  it  hardly  corresponds  to  what  a  modern 
would  naturally  call  "justice."  The  Greek  word  so  translated 
corresponded  to  a  concept  which  was  very  important  in  Greek 
thought,  but  for  which  we  have  no  exact  equivalent.  It  is  worth 
while  to  recall  what  Anaximander  said: 

Into  that  from  which  things  take  their  rise  they  pass  away  once 
more,  as  is  ordained;  for  they  make  reparation  and  satisfaction  to 
one  another  for  their  injustice  according  to  the  appointed  time. 

Before  philosophy  began,  the  Greeks  had  a  theory  or  feeling 
about  the  universe,  which  may  be  called  religious  or  ethical. 
According  to  this  theory,  every  person  and  every  thing  has  his 
or  its  appointed  place  and  appointed  function.  This  does  not 
depend  upon  the  fiat  of  Zeus,  for  Zeus  himself  is  subject  to  the 
same  kind  of  law  as  governs  others.  The  theory  is  connected  with 
the  idea  of  fate  or  necessity.  It  applies  emphatitally  to  the  heavenly 
bodies.  But  where  there  is  vigour,  there  is  a  tendency  to  overstep 

'34 


PLATO'S  UTOPIA 

just  bounds;  hence  arises  strife.  Some  kind  of  impersonal  super- 
Olympian  law  punishes  hubris,  and  restores  the  eternal  order 
which  the  aggressor  sought  to  violate.  This  whole  outlook,  ori- 
ginally, perhaps,  scarcely  conscious,  passed  over  into  philosophy; 
it  is  to  be  found  alike  in  cosmologies  of  strife,  such  as  those  of 
Heraclitus  and  Empedoclea,  and  in  monistic  doctrines  such  as 
that  of  Parmenides.  It  is  the  source  of  the  belief  both  in  natural 
and  in  human  law,  and  it  clearly  underlies  Plato's  conception  of 
justice. 

The  word  "justice,"  as  still  used  in  the  law,  is  more  similar  to 
Plato's  conception  than  it  is  as  used  in  political  speculation.  Under 
the  influence  of  democratic  theory,  we  have  come  to  associate 
justice  with  equality:  while  for  Plato  it  has  no  such  implication. 
"Justice,"  in  the  sense  in  which  it  is  almost  synonymous  with 
"law" — as  when  we  speak  of  "courts  of  justice" — is  concerned 
mainly  with  property  rights,  which  have  nothing  to  do  with 
equality.  The  first  suggested  definition  of  "justice,"  at  the  be- 
ginning of  the  Republic,  is  that  it  consists  in  paying  debts.  This 
definition  is  soon  abandoned  as  inadequate,  but  something  of  it 
remains  at  the  end. 

There  are  several  points  to  be  noted  about  Plato's  definition. 
First,  it  makes  it  possible  to  have  inequalities  of  power  and 
privilege  without  injustice.  The  guardians  are  to  have  all  the  power, 
because  they  are  the  wisest  members  of  the  community;  injustice 
would  only  occur,  on  Plato's  definition,  if  there  were  men  in  the 
other  classes  who  were  wiser  than  some  of  the  guardians.  That  is 
why  Plato  provides  for  promotion  and  degradation  of  citizens, 
although  he  thinks  that  the  double  advantage  of  birth  and  edu- 
cation will,  in  most  cases,  make  the  children  of  guardians  superior 
to  the  children  of  others.  If  there  were  a  more  exact  science  of 
government,  and  more  certainty  of  men  following  its  precepts, 
there  would  be  much  to  be  said  for  Plato's  system.  No  one  thinks 
it  unjust  to  put  the  best  men  into  a  football  team,  although  they 
acquire  thereby  a  great  superiority.  If  football  were  managed  as 
democratically  as  the  Athenian  government  the  students  to  play 
for  their  university  would  be  chosen  by  lot.  But  in  matters  of 
government  it  is  difficult  to  know  who  has  the  most  skill,  and 
very  far  from  certain  that  a  politician  will  use  his  skill  in  the 
public  interest  rather  than  in  his  own  or  in  that  of  his  class  or 
party  or  crcfd. 

135 


WESTERN   PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

The  next  point  is  that  Plato's  definition  of  "justice"  presup- 
poses a  State  organized  either  on  traditional  lines,  or,  like  his  own, 
so  as  to  realize,  in  its  totality,  some  ethical  ideal.  Justice,  we  are 
told,  consists  in  every  man  doing  his  own  job.  But  what  is  a  man's 
job?  In  a  State  which,  like  ancient  Egypt  or  the  kingdom  of  the 
Incas,  remains  unchanged  generation  after  generation,  a  man's 
job  is  his  father's  job,  and  no  question  arises.  But  in  Plato's  State 
no  man  has  any  legal  father.  His  job,  therefore,  must  be  decided 
either  by  his  own  tastes  or  by  the  State's  judgment  as  to  his 
aptitudes.  The  latter  is  obviously  what  Plato  would  desire.  But 
some  kinds  of  work,  though  highly  skilled,  may  be  deemed 
pernicious ;  Plato  takes  this  view  of  poetry,  and  I  should  take  it 
of  the  work  of  Napoleon.  The  purposes  of  the  Government, 
therefore,  are  essential  in  determining  what  is  a  man's  job.  Al- 
though all  the  rulers  are  to  be  philosophers,  there  are  to  be  no 
innovations:  a  philosopher  is  to  be,  for  all  time,  a  man  who 
understands  and  agrees  with  Plato. 

When  we  ask:  what  will  Plato's  Republic  achieve ?  the  answer 
is  rather  humdrum.  It  will  achieve  success  in  wars  against  roughly 
equal  populations,  and  it  will  secure  a  livelihood  for  a  certain 
small  number  of  people.  It  will  almost  certainly  produce  no  art 
or  science,  because  of  its  rigidity;  in  this  respect,  as  in  others, 
it  will  be  like  Sparta.  In  spite  of  all  the  fine  talk,  skill  in  war  and 
enough  to  eat  is  all  that  will  be  achieved.  Plato  had  lived  through 
famine  and  defeat  in  Athens;  perhaps,  subconsciously,  he  thought 
the  avoidance  of  these  evils  the  best  that  statesmanship  could 
accomplish. 

A  Utopia,  if  seriously  intended,  obviously  must  embody  the 
ideals  of  its  creator.  Let  us  consider,  for  a  moment,  what  we  can 
mean  by  "ideals."  In  the  first  place,  they  are  desired  by  those 
who  believe  in  them;  but  they  are  not  desired  quite  in  the  same- 
way  as  a  man  desires  personal  comforts,  such  as  food  and  shelter. 
What  makes  the  difference  between  an  "ideal"  and  an  ordinary 
object  of  desire  is  that  the  former  is  impersonal ;  it  is  something 
having  (at  least  ostensibly)  no  special  reference  to  the  ego  of  the 
man  who  feels  the  desire,  and  therefore  capable,  theoretically, 
of  being  desired  by  everybody.  Thus  we  might  define  an  "ideal" 
as  something  desired,  not  egocentric,  and  such  that  the  person 
desiring  it  wishes  that  every  one  else  also  deiircd  it.  I  may  wish 
that  everybody  had  enough  to  eat,  that  everybody  felt  kindly 

•36 


PLATO'S  UTOPIA 

towards  everybody,  and  so  on,  and  if  I  wish  anything  of  this 
kind  I  shall  also  wish  others  to  wish  it.  In  this  way,  I  can  build 
up  what  looks  like  an  impersonal  ethic,  although  in  fact  it  rests 
upon  the  personal  basis  of  my  own  desires — for  the  desire  remains 
mine,  even  when  what  is  desired  has  no  reference  to  myself. 
For  example,  one  man  may  wish  that  everybody  understood 
science,  and  another  that  everybody  appreciated  an;  it  is  a  per- 
sonal difference  between  the  two  men  that  produces  this  difference 
in  their  desires. 

The  personal  element  becomes  apparent  as  soon  as  controversy 
is  involved.  Suppose  some  man  says:  "You  are  wrong  to  wish 
everybody  to  be  happy;  you  ought  to  desire  the  happiness  of 
Germans  and  the  unhappiness  of  everyone  else."  Here  "ought" 
may  be  taken  to  mean  that  that  is  what  the  speaker  wishes  me 
to  desire.  I  might  retort  that,  not  being  German,  it  is  psychologi- 
cally impossible  for  me  to  desire  the  unhappiness  of  all  non- 
Germans  ;  but  this  answer  seems  inadequate. 

Again,  there  may  be  a  conflict  of  purely  impersonal  ideals. 
Nietzsche's  hero  differs  from  a  Christian  saint,  yet  both  are 
impersonally  admired,  the  one  by  Nietzscheans,  the  other  by 
Christians.  How  are  we  to  decide  between  the  two  except  by 
means  of  our  own  desires?  Yet,  if  there  is  nothing  further,  an 
ethical  disagreement  can  only  be  decided  by  emotional  appeals, 
or  by  force — in  the  ultimate  resort,  by  war.  On  questions  of 
fact,  we  can  appeal  to  science  and  scientific  methods  of  obser- 
vation; but  on  ultimate  questions  of  ethics  there  seems  to  be 
nothing  analogous.  Yet,  if  this  is  really  the  case,  ethical  disputes 
resolve  themselves  into  contests  for  power — including  propaganda 
power. 

This  point  of  view,  in  a  crude  form,  is  put  forth  in  the  first 
book  of  the  Republic  by  Thrasymachus,  who,  like  almost  all  the 
characters  in  Plato's  dialogues,  was  a  real  person.  He  was  a 
Sophist  from  Chalcedon.  and  a  famous  teacher  of  rhetoric;  he 
appeared  in  the  first  comedy  of  Aristophanes,  427  B.C.  After 
Socrates  has,  for  some  time,  been  amiably  discussing  justice  with 
an  old  man  named  Cephalus,  and  with  Plato's  elder  brothers 
Glaucon  and  Adeimantus,  Thrasymachus,  who  has  been  listening 
with  growing  impatience,  breaks  in  with  a  vehement  protest 
against  such  childish  nonsense.  He  proclaims  emphatically  that 
"justice  is  lathing  else  than  the  interest  of  the  stronger." 

'37 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

This  point  of  view  is  refuted  by  Socrates  with  quibbles;  it  is 
never  fairly  faced.  It  raises  the  fundamental  question  in  ethics 
and  politics,  namely:  Is  there  any  standard  of  "good"  and  "bad," 
except  what  the  man  using  these  words  desires  ?  If  there  is  not, 
many  of  the  consequences  drawn  by  Thrasymachus  seem  unes- 
capable.  Yet  how  are  we  to  say  that  there  is  ? 

At  this  point,  religion  has,  at  first  sight,  a  simple  answer.  God 
determines  what  is  good  and  what  bad ;  the  man  whose  will  is  in 
harmony  with  the  will  of  God  is  a  good  man.  Yet  this  answer  is 
not  quite  orthodox.  Theologians  say  that  God  is  good,  and  this 
implies  that  there  is  a  standard  of  goodness  which  is  independent 
of  God's  will.  We  are  thus  forced  to  face  the  question:  Is  there 
objective  truth  or  falsehood  in  such  a  statement  as  "pleasure 
is  good/'  in  the  same  sense  as  in  such  a  statement  as  "snow  is 
white"? 

To  answer  this  question,  a  very  long  discussion  would  be 
necessary.  Some  may  think  that  we  can,  for  practical  purposes, 
evade  the  fundamental  issue,  and  say:  "I  do  not  know  what  is 
meant  by  'objective  truth,'  but  I  shall  consider  a  statement  'true* 
if  all,  or  virtually  all,  of  those  who  have  investigated  it  are  agreed 
in  upholding  it."  In  this  sense,  it  is  "true"  that  snow  is  white. 
that  Caesar  was  assassinated,  that  water  is  composed  of  hydrogen 
and  oxygen,  and  so  on.  \Ve  are  then  faced  with  a  question  of  fact: 
are  there  any  similarly  agreed  statements  in  ethics?  If  there  arc, 
they  can  be  made  the  basis  both  for  rules  of  private  conduct, 
and  for  a  theory  of  politics.  If  there  are  not,  we  are  driven  in 
practice,  whatever  may  be  the  philosophic  truth,  to  a  contest  by 
force  or  propaganda  or  both,  whenever  an  irreconcilable  ethical 
difference  exists  between  powerful  groups. 

For  Plato,  this  question  does  not  really  exist.  Although  his 
dramatic  sense  leads  him  to  state  the  position  of  Thrasymachus 
forcibly,  he  is  quite  unaware  of  its  strength,  and  allows  himself 
to  be  grossly  unfair  in  arguing  against  it.  Plato  is  convinced  that 
there  is  "the  Good,"  and  that  its  nature  can  be  ascertained; 
when  people  disagree  about  it,  one,  at  least,  is  making  an  intel- 
lectual, error  just  as  much  as  if  the  disagreement  were  a  scientific 
one  on  some  matter  of  fact. 

The  difference  between  Plato  and  Thrasymachus  is  very  impor- 
tant, but  for  the  historian  of  philosophy  it  is  one  to  be  only  noted, 
not  decided.  Plato  thinks  he  can  prove  that  his  ideal  ^Republic  is 

138 


PLATO'S  UTOPIA 

good ;  a  democrat  who  accepts  the  objectivity  of  ethics  may  think 
that  he  can  prove  the  Republic  bad;  but  anyone  who  agrees  with 
Thrasymachus  will  say:  "There  is  no  question  of  proving  or 
disproving;  the  only  question  is  whether  you  like  the  kind  of  State 
that  Plato  desires.  If  you  do,  it  is  good  for  you ;  if  you  do  not, 
it  is  bad  for  you.  If  many  do  and  many  do  not,  the  decision  cannot 
be  made  by  reason,  but  only  by  force,  actual  or  concealed."  This 
is  one  of  the  issues  in  philosophy  that  are  still  open ;  on  each  side 
there  are  men  who  command  respect.  But  for  a  very  long  time 
the  opinion  that  Plato  advocated  remained  almost  undisputed. 

It  should  be  observed,  further,  that  the  view  which  substi- 
tutes the  consensus  of  opinion  for  an  objective  standard  has 
certain  consequences  that  few  would  accept.  What  are  we  to  say 
of  scientific  innovators  like  Galileo,  who  advocate  an  opinion 
with  which  few  agree,  but  finally  win  the  support  of  almost 
everybody?  They  do  so  by  means  of  arguments,  not  by  emotional 
appeals  or  state  propaganda  or  the  use  of  force.  This  implies 
a  criterion  other  than  the  general  opinion.  In  ethical  matters, 
there  is  something  analogous  in  the  case  of  the  great  religious 
teachers.  Christ  taught  that  it  is  not  wrong  to  pluck  ears  of  corn 
on  the  Sabbath,  but  that  it  is  wrong  to  hate  your  enemies.  Such 
ethical  innovations  obviously  imply  some  standard  other  than 
majority  opinion,  but  the  standard,  whatever  it  is,  is  not  objective 
fact,  as  in  a  scientific  question.  This  problem  is  a  difficult  one, 
and  I  do  not  profess  to  be  able  to  solve  it.  For  the  present,  let  us 
be  content  to  note  it. 

Plato's  Republic,  unlike  modern  Utopias,  was  perhaps  intended 
to  be  actually  founded.  This  was  not  so  fantastic  or  impossible  as 
it  might  naturally  seem  to  us.  Many  of  its  provisions,  including 
some  that  we  should  have  thought  quite  impracticable,  were 
actually  realized  at  Sparta.  The  rule  of  philosophers  had  been 
attempted  by  Pythagoras,  and  in  Plato's  time  Archytas  the 
Pythagorean  was  politically  influential  in  Taras  (the  modern 
Taranto)  when  Plato  visited  Sicily  and  southern  Italy.  It  was 
a  common  practice  for  cities  to  employ  a  sage  to  draw  up  their 
laws;  Solon  had  done  this  for  Athens,  and  Protagoras  for  Thurii. 
Colonies,  in  those  days,  were  completely  free  from  control  by 
their  parent  cities,  and  it  would  have  been  quite  feasible  for  a 
band  of  Platonists  to  establish  the  Republic  on  the  shores  of  Spain 
or  Gaul.  Unfortunately  chance  led  Plato  to  Syracuse,  a  great 

139 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

commercial  city  engaged  in  desperate  wars  with  Cartilage;  in 
such  an  atmosphere,  no  philosopher  could  have  achieved  much. 
In  the  next  generation,  the  rise  of  Macedonia  had  made  all  small 
States  antiquated,  and  had  brought  about  the  futility  of  all 
political  experiments  in  miniature. 


140 


Chapter  XV 
THE    THEORY    OF    IDEAS 

E  I   1HE  middle  of  the  Republic,  from  the  later  part  of  Book  V 

I    to  the  end  of  Book  VII,  is  occupied  mainly  with  questions 

JL   of  pure  philosophy,  as  opposed  to  politics.  These  questions 

are  introduced  by  a  somewhat  abrupt  statement: 

Until  philosophers  are  kings,  or  the  kings  and  princes  of  this . 
world  have  the  spirit  and  power  of  philosophy,  and  political  great- 
ness and  wisdom  meet  in  one,  and  those  commoner  natures  who 
pursue  either  to  the  exclusion  of  the  other  are  compelled  to  stand 
aside,  cities  will  never  have  rest  from  these  evils — no,  nor  the 
human  race,  as  I  believe — and  then  only  will  this  our  State  have 
a  possibility  of  life  and  behold  the  light  of  day. 

If  this  is  true,  we  must  decide  what  constitutes  a  philosopher, 
and  what  we  mean  by  "philosophy."  The  consequent  discussion 
is  the  most  famous  part  of  the  Republic,  and  has  perhaps  been  the 
most  influential.  It  has,  in  parts,  extraordinary  literary  beauty; 
the  reader  may  disagree  (as  1  do)  with  what  is  said,  but  cannot 
help  being  moved  by  it. 

Plato's  philosophy  rests  on  the  distinction  between  reality  and 
appearance,  which  was  first  set  forth  by  Parmenides;  throughout 
the  discussion  with  which  we  are  now  concerned,  Parmenidean 
phrases  and  arguments  are  constantly  recurring.  There  is,  however, 
a  religious  tone  about  reality,  which  is  rather  Pythagorean  than 
Parmenidean ;  and  there  is  much  about  mathematics  and  music 
which  is  directly  traceable  to  the  disciples  of  Pythagoras.  This 
combination  of  the  logic  of  Parmenides  with  the  other- worldliness 
of  Pythagoras  and  the  Orphics  produced  a  doctrine  which  was 
felt  to  be  satisfying  to  both  the  intellect  and  the  religious  emo- 
tions ;  the  result  was  a  very  powerful  synthesis,  which,  with  various 
modifications,  influenced  most  of  the  great  philosophers,  down 
to  and  including  Hegel.  But  not  only  philosophers  were  influenced 
by  Plato.  Why  did  the  Puritans  object  to  the  music  ag^^fiSUl 
and  gorgeous  ritual  of  the  Catholic  Church  ?  Yoy^ff3u|VnSh<M)| 

M^r  \  ^^'*^*4^ 

answer  in  the  tenth  book  of  the  Republic.  \V\\wG*p>  pMtoren  11 
school  compelled  no  learn  arithmetic?  The  re^gnf/fire  given  ii 
the  seventh  book. 

141 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL    THOUGHT 

The  following  paragraphs  summarize  Plato's  theory  of  ideas. 
Our  question  is:  What  is  a  philosopher?  The  first  answer  is  in 
accordance  with  the  etymology :  a  philosopher  is  a  lover  of  wisdom. 
But  this  is  not  the  same  thing  as  a  lover  of  knowledge,  in  the  sense 
in  which  an  inquisitive  man  may  be  said  to  love  knowledge ;  vulgar 
curiosity  does  not  make  a  philosopher.  The  definition  is  therefore 
amended :  the  philosopher  is  a  man  who  loves  the  " vision  of  truth." 
But  what  is  this  vision  ? 

Consider  a  man  who  loves  beautiful  things,  who  makes  a  point 
of  being  present  at  new  tragedies,  seeing  new  pictures,  and  hearing 
new  music.  Such  a  man  is  not  a  philosopher,  because  he  loves 
only  beautiful  things,  whereas  the  philosopher  loves  beauty  in 
itself.  The  man  who  only  loves  beautiful  things  is  dreaming, 
whereas  the  man  who  knows  absolute  beauty  is  wide  awake. 
The  former  has  only  opinion ;  the  latter  has  knowledge. 

What  is  the  difference  between  "knowledge"  and  ''opinion"? 
The  man  who  has  knowledge  has  knowledge  of  sometliing,  that 
is  to  say,  of  something  that  exists,  for  what  does  not  exist  is 
nothing.  (This  is  reminiscent  of  Parmenides.)  Thus  knowledge 
is  infallible,  since  it  is  logically  impossible  for  it  to  be  mistaken. 
But  opinion  can  be  mistaken.  How  can  this  be?  Opinion  cannot 
be  of  what  is  not,  for  that  is  impossible ;  nor  of  what  is,  for  then 
it  would  be  knowledge.  Therefore  opinion  must  be  of  what  both 
is  and  is  not. 

But  how  is  this  possible  ?  The  answer  is  that  particular  things 
always  partake  of  opposite  characters:  what  is  beautiful  is  also, 
in  some  respects,  ugly;  what  is  just  is,  in  some  respects,  unjust; 
and  so  on.  All  particular  sensible  objects,  so  Plato  contends,  have 
this  contradictory  character;  they  are  thus  intermediate  between 
being  and  not-being,  and  are  suitable  as  objects  of  opinion,  but 
not  of  knowledge.  "But  those  who  see  the  absolute  and  eternal 
and  immutable  may  be  said  to  know,  and  not  to  have  opinion  only." 
Thus  we  arrive  at  the  conclusion  that  opinion  is  of  the  world 
presented  to  the  senses,  whereas  knowledge  is  of  a  super-sensible 
eternal  world;  for  instance,  opinion  is  concerned  with  particular 
beautiful  things,  but  knowledge  is  concerned  with  beauty  in 
itself. 

The  only  argument  advanced  is  that  it  is  self-contradictory  to 
suppose  that  a  thing  can  be  both  beautiful  and  not  beautiful,  or 

both  just  and  not  just,  and  that  nevertheless  particular  things 

f 
142 


THE  THEORY   OF   IDEAS 

seem  to  combine  such  contradictory  characters.  Therefore  par- 
ticular things  are  not  real.  Heraclitus  had  said  "We  step  and  do 
not  step  into  the  same  rivers;  we  are  and  are  not."  By  combining 
this  with  Parmenides  we  arrive  at  Plato's  result. 

There  is,  however,  something  of  great  importance  in  Plato's 
doctrine  which  is  not  traceable  to  his  predecessors,  and  that  is 
the  theory  of  "ideas"  or  "forms."  This  theory  is  partly  logical, 
partly  metaphysical.  The  logical  part  has  to  do  with  the  meaning 
of  general  words.  There  are  many  individual  animals  of  whom  we 
can  truly  say  "this  is  a  cat."  What  do  we  mean  by  the  word  "cat"  ? 
Obviously  something  different  from  each  particular  cat.  An 
animal  is  a  cat,  it  would  seem,  because  it  participates  in  a  general 
nature  common  to  all  cats.  Language  cannot  get  on  without 
general  words  such  as  "cat,"  and  such  words  are  evidently  not 
meaningless.  But  if  the  word  "cat"  means  anything,  it  means 
something  which  is  not  this  or  that  cat,  but  some  kind  of  universal 
cattiness.  This  is  not  born  when  a  particular  cat  is  born,  and 
does  not  die  when  it  dies.  In  fact,  it  has  no  position  in  space  or 
time;  it  is  "eternal."  This  is  the  logical  part  of  the  doctrine. 
The  arguments  in  its  favour,  whether  ultimately  valid  or  not,  are 
strong,  and  quite  independent  of  the  metaphysical  part  of  the 
doctrine. 

According  to  the  metaphysical  part  of  the  doctrine,  the  word 
"cat"  means  a  certain  ideal  cat,  "the  cat,"  created  by  God,  and 
unique.  Particular  cats  partake  of  the  nature  of  the  cat,  but  more 
or  less  imperfectly;  it  is  only  owing  to  this  imperfection  that 
there  can  be  many  of  them.  The  cat  is  real ;  particular  cats  are 
only  apparent. 

In  the  last  book  of  the  Republic,  as  a  preliminary  to  a  condemna- 
tion of  painters,  there  is  a  very  clear  exposition  of  the  doctrine  of 
ideas  or  forms. 

Here  Plato  explains  that,  whenever  a  number  of  individuals 
have  a  common  name,  they  have  also  a  common  "idea"  or  "form." 
For  instance,  though  there  are  many  beds,  there  is  only  one 
"idea"  or.  "form"  of  a  bed.  Just  as  a  reflection  of  a  bed  in  a  mirror 
is  only  apparent  and  not  "real,"  so  the  various  particular  beds 
are  unreal,  being  only  copies  of  the  "idea,"  which  is  the  one  real 
bed,  and  is  made  by  God.  Of  this  one  bed,  made  by  God,  there 
cm  be  knowledge,  but  in  respect  of  the  many  beds  made  by 
carpenters  there  can  be  only  opinion.  The  philosopher,  as  such, 

'43 


WESTERN   PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

will  be  interested  only  in  the  one  ideal  bed,  not  in  the  many  beds 
found  in  the  sensible  world.  He  will  have  a  certain  indifference 
to  ordinary  mundane  affairs:  "how  can  he  who  has  magnificence 
of  mind  and  is  the  spectator  of  all  time  and  all  existence,  think 
much  of  human  life?"  The  youth  who  is  capable  of  becoming 
a  philosopher  will  be  distinguished  among  his  fellows  as  just  and 
gentle,  fond  of  learning,  possessed  of  a  good  memory  and  a 
naturally  harmonious  mind.  Such  a  one  shall  be  educated  into 
a  philosopher  and  a  guardian. 

At  this  point  Adeimantus  breaks  in  with  a  protest.  When  he  tries 
to  argue  with  Socrates,  he  says,  he  feels  himself  led  a  little  astray 
at  each  step,  until,  in  the  end,  all  his  former  notions  are  turned 
upside  down.  But  whatever  Socrates  may  say,  it  remains  the  case, 
as  any  one  can  see,  that  people  who  stick  to  philosophy  become 
strange  monsters,  not  to  say  utter  rogues ;  even  the  best  of  them 
are  made  useless  by  philosophy. 

Socrates  admits  that  this  is  true  in  the  world  as  it  is,  but  main- 
tains that  it  is  the  other  people  who  are  to  blame,  not  the  philo- 
sophers; in  a  wise  community  the  philosophers  would  not  seem 
foolish;  it  is  only  among  fools  that  the  wise  are  judged  to  be 
destitute  of  wisdom. 

What  are  we  to  do  in  this  dilemma  ?  There  were  to  have  been 
two  ways  of  inaugurating  our  Republic:  by  philosophers  becoming 
rulers,  or  by  rulers  becoming  philosophers.  The  first  way  seems 
impossible  as  a  beginning,  because  in  a  city  not  already  philo- 
sophic the  philosophers  are  unpopular.  But  a  born  prince  might 
be  a  philosopher,  and  "one  is  enough;  let  there  be  one  man  who 
has  a  city  obedient  to  his  will,  and  he  might  bring  into  existence 
the  ideal  polity  about  which  the  world  is  so  incredulous."  Plato 
hoped  that  he  had  found  such  a  prince  in  the  younger  Dionysius, 
tyrant  of  Syracuse,  but  the  young  man  turned  out  disappointingly. 
In  the  sixth  and  seventh  books  of  the  Republic,  Plato  is  concerned 
with  two  questions:  First,  what  is  philosophy?  Second,  how  can  a 
young  man  or  woman,  of  suitable  temperament,  be  so  educated 
as  to  become  a  philosopher  ? 

Philosophy,  for  Plato,  is  a  kind  of  vision,  the  "vision  of  truth." 
It  is  not  purely  intellectual ;  it  is  not  merely  wisdom,  but  low  of 
wisdom.  Spinoza's  "intellectual  love  of  God"  is  much  the  same 
intimate  union  of  thought  and  feeling.  Every  6ne  who  has  done 
any  kind  of  creative  work  has  experienced,  in  a  greater  or  less 

144 


THE   THEORY   OP   IDEAS 

degree,  the  state  of  mind  in  which,  after  long  labour,  truth  or 
beauty  appears,  or  seems  to  appear,  in  a  sudden  glory — it  may 
be  only  about  some  small  matter,  or  it  may  be  about  the  universe. 
The  experience  is,  at  the  moment,  very  convincing;  doubt  may 
come  later,  but  at  the  time  there  is  utter  certainty.  I  think  most 
of  the  best  creative  work,  in  art,  in  science,  in  literature,  and  in 
philosophy,  has  been  the  result  of  such  a  moment.  Whether  it 
comes  to  others  as  to  me,  I  cannot  say.  For  my  pan,  I  have  found 
that,  when  I  wish  to  write  a  book  on  some  subject,  I  must  first 
soak  myself  in  detail,  until  all  the  separate  parts  of  the  subject- 
matter  are  familiar;  then,  some  day,  if  I  am  fortunate,  I  perceive 
the  whole,  with  all  its  parts  duly  interrelated.  After  that,  I  only 
have  to  write  down  what  I  have  seen.  The  nearest  analogy  is 
first  walking  all  over  a  mountain  in  a  mist,  until  every  path  and 
ridge  and  valley  is  separately  familiar,  and  then,  from  a  distance, 
seeing  the  mountain  whole  and  clear  in  bright  sunshine. 

This  experience,  I  believe,  is  necessary  to  good  creative  work, 
but  it  is  not  sufficient;  indeed  the  subjective  certainty  that  it 
brings  with  it  may  be  fatally  misleading.  William  James  describes 
a  man  who  got  the  experience  from  laughing-gas;  whenever  he 
was  under  its  influence,  he  knew  the  secret  of  the  universe,  but 
when  he  came  to,  he  had  forgotten  it.  At  last,  with  immense 
effort,  he  wrote  down  the  secret  before  the  vision  had  faded. 
When  completely  recovered,  he  rushed  to  see  what  he  had  written. 
It  was:  "A  smell  of  petroleum  prevails  throughout."  What  seems 
like  sudden  insight  may  be  misleading,  and  must  be  tested  soberly, 
when  the  divine  intoxication  has  passed. 

Plato's  vision,  which  he  completely  trusted  at  the  time  when  he 
wrote  the  Republic,  needs  ultimately  the  help  of  a  parable, 
the  parable  of  the  cave,  in  order  to  convey  its  nature  to  the 
reader.  Rut  it  is  led  up  to  by  various  preliminary  discussions, 
designed  to  make  the  reader  see  the  necessity  of  the  world  of 
ideas. 

First,  the  world  of  the  intellect  is  distinguished  from  the  world 
of  the  senses ;  then  intellect  and  sense-perception  are  in  turn  each 
divided  into  two  kinds.  The  two  kinds  of  sense-perception  need 
not  concern  us ;  the  two  kinds  of  intellect  are  called,  respectively, 
"reason"  and  "understanding."  Of  these,  reason  is  the  higher 
kind ;  it  is  concerned  with  pure  ideas,  and  its  method  is  dialectic. 
Understanding  is  the  kind  of  intellect  that  is  used  in  mathematics; 

»45 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

it  is  inferior  to  reason  in  that  it  uses  hypotheses  which  it  cannot 
test.  In  geometry,  for  example,  we  say:  "Let  ABC  be  a  rectilinear 
triangle."  It  is  against  the  rules  to  ask  whether  ABC  really  is 
a  rectilinear  triangle,  although,  if  it  is  a  figure  that  we  have  drawn, 
we  may  be  sure  that  it  is  not,  because  we  can't  draw  absolutely 
straight  lines.  Accordingly,  mathematics  can  never  tell  us  what  u, 
but  only  what  would  be  if.  ...  There  are  no  straight  lines  in  the 
sensible  world;  therefore,  if  mathematics  is  to  have  more  than 
hypothetical  truth,  we  must  find  evidence  for  the  existence  of 
super-sensible  straight  lines  in  a  super-sensible  world.  This 
cannot  be  done  by  the  understanding,  but  according  to  Plato 
it  can  be  done  by  reason,  which  shows  that  there  is  a  rectilinear 
triangle  in  heaven,  of  which  geometrical  propositions  can  be 
affirmed  categorically,  not  hypothetically. 

There  is,  at  this  point,  a  difficulty  which  did  not  escape  Plato's 
notice,  and  was  evident  to  modern  idealistic  philosophers. 
We  saw  that  God  made  only  one  bed,  and  it  would  he  natural 
to  suppose  that  he  made  only  one  straight  line.  But  if  there  is  a 
heavenly  triangle,  he  must  have  made  at  least  three  straight  lines. 
Theobjects  of  geometry,  though  ideal,  must  exist  in  manycxamples ; 
we  need  the  possibility  of  two  intersecting  circles ,  and  so  on. 
This  suggests  that  geometry,  on  Plato's  theory,  should  not  be 
capable  of  ultimate  truth,  but  should  be  condemned  as  part  of 
the  study  of  appearance.  We  will,  however,  ignore  this  point, 
as  to  which  Plato's  answer  is  somewhat  obscure. 

Plato  seeks  to  explain  the  difference  between  clear  intellectual 
vision  and  the  confused  vision  of  sense-perception  by  an  analogy 
from  the  sense  of  sight.  Sight,  he  says,  differs  from  the  other  senses, 
since  it  requires  not  only  the  eye  and  the  object,  hut  also  light. 
We  see  clearly  objects  on  which  the  sun  shines:  in  twilight  we 
see  confusedly,  and  in  pitch-darkness  not  at  all.  Now  the  world 
of  ideas  is  what  we  see  when  the  object  is  illumined  by  the  sun, 
while  the  world  of  passing  things  is  a  confused  twilight  world. 
The  eye  is  compared  to  the  soul,  and  the  sun,  as  the  source  of 
light,  to  truth  or  goodness. 

The  soul  is  like  an  eye:  when  resting  upon  that  on  which  truth 
and  being  shine,  the  soul  perceives  and  understands,  and  is  radiant 
with  intelligence;  but  when  turned  towards  the  twilight  of  be- 
coming and  perishing,  then  she  has  opinion  onfy,  and  goes  blinking 
about,  and  is  first  of  one  opinion  and  then  of  another,  and  seems  to 

146 


THE  THEORY   OP   IDEAS 

have  no  intelligence.  .  .  .  Now  what  imparts  truth  to  the  known 
and  the  power  of  knowing  to  the  knower  is  what  I  would  have 
you  term  the  idea  of  good,  and  this  you  will  deem  to  be  the  cause 
of  science. 

This  leads  up  to  the  famous  simile  of  the  cave  or  den,  according 
to  which  those  who  are  destitute  of  philosophy  may  be  compared 
to  prisoners  in  a  cave,  who  are  only  able  to  look  in  one  direction 
because  they  are  bound,  and  who  have  a  fire  behind  them  and 
a  wall  in  front.  Between  them  and  the  wall  there  is  nothing; 
all  that  they  see  are  shadows  of  themselves,  and  of  objects  behind 
them,  cast  on  the  wall  by  the  light  of  the  fire.  Inevitably  they 
regard  these  shadows  as  real,  and  have  no  notion  of  the  objects 
to  which  they  are  due.  At  last  some  man  succeeds  in  escaping 
from  the  cave  to  the  light  of  the  sun ;  for  the  first  time  he  sees 
real  things,  and  becomes  aware  that  he  had  hitherto  been  deceived 
by  shadows.  If  he  is  the  sort  of  philosopher  who  is  fit  to  become 
a  guardian,  he  will  feel  it  his  duty  to  those  who  were  formerly 
his  fellow-prisoners  to  go  down  again  into  the  cave,  instruct 
them  as  to  the  truth,  and  show  them  the  way  up.  But  he  will  have 
difficulty  in  persuading  them,  because,  coming  out  of  the  sunlight, 
he  will  sec  shadows  less  clearly  than  they  do,  and  will  seem  to 
them  stupider  than  before  his  escape. 

"And  now,  I  said,  let  me  show  in  a  figure  how  far  our  nature  is 
enlightened  or  unenlightened : — Behold!  human  beings  living  in 
an  underground  den,  which  has  a  mouth  open  toward  the  light 
and  reaching  all  along  the  den;  here  they  have  been  from  their 
childhood,  and  have  their  legs  and  necks  chained  so  that  they 
cannot  move,  and  can  only  see  before  them,  being  prevented  by 
the  chains  from  turning  round  their  heads.  Above  and  behind 
them  a  fire  is  blazing  at  a  distance,  and  between  the  fire  and  the 
prisoners  there  is  a  raised  way ;  and  you  will  see,  if  you  look,  a  low 
wall  built  along  the  way,  like  the  screen  which  marionette  players 
have  in  front  of  them,  over  which  they  show  the  puppets. 

"I  see. 

"And  do  you  sec,  I  said,  men  passing  along  the  wall  carrying  all 
sorts  of  vessels,  and  statues  and  figures  of  animals  made  of  wood 
and  stone  and  various  materials,  which  appear  over  the  wall  ?  Some 
of  them  arc  talking,  others  silent. 

"You  have  shown  me  a  strange  image,  and  they  are  strange 
prisoners. 

14 Like  ourselves,  I  replied ;  and  they  see  only  their  own  shadows, 

147 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL  THOUGHT 

or  the  shadows  of  one  another,  which  the  fire  throws  on  the 
opposite  wall  of  the  cave." 

The  position  of  the  good  in  Plato's  philosophy  is  peculiar. 
Science  and  truth,  he  says,  are  like  the  good,  but  the  good  has 
a  higher  place.  "The  good  is  not  essence,  but  far  exceeds  essence 
in  dignity  and  power."  Dialectic  leads  to  the  end  of  the  intellectual 
world  in  the  perception  of  the  absolute  good.  It  is  by  means  of 
the  good  that  dialectic  is  able  to  dispense  with  the  hypotheses  of 
the  mathematician.  The  underlying  assumption  is  that  reality, 
as  opposed  to  appearance,  is  completely  and  perfectly  good; 
to  perceive  the  good,  therefore,  is  to  perceive  reality.  Throughout 
Plato's  philosophy  there  is  the  same  fusion  of  intellect  and  mysti- 
cism as  in  Pythagoreanism,  but  at  this  final  culmination  mysticism 
clearly  has  the  upper  hand. 

Plato's  doctrine  of  ideas  contains  a  number  of  obvious  errors. 
But  in  spite  of  these  it  marks  a  very  important  advance  in  philo- 
sophy, since  it  is  the  first  theory  to  emphasize  the  problem  of 
universal,  which,  in  varying  forms,  has  persisted  to  the  present 
day.  Beginnings  are  apt  to  be  crude,  but  their  originality  should 
not  be  overlooked  on  this  account.  Something  remains  of  what 
Plato  had  to  say,  even  after  all  necessary  corrections  have  been 
made.  The  absolute  minimum  of  what  remains,  even  in  the  view 
of  those  most  hostile  to  Plato,  is  this:  that  we  cannot  express 
ourselves  in  a  language  composed  wholly  of  proper  names,  but 
must  have  also  general  words  such  as  "man,"  "dog,"  "cat"; 
or,  if  not  these,  then  relational  words  such  as  "similar,"  "before," 
and  so  on.  Such  words  are  not  meaningless  noises,  and  it  is 
difficult  to  see  how  they  can  have  meaning  if  the  world  consists  en- 
tirely of  particular  things,  such  as  are  designated  by  proper 
names.  There  may  be  ways  of  getting  round  this  argument,  but 
at  any  rate  it  affords  a  prima  facie  case  in  favour  of  universal*. 
I  shall  provisionally  accept  it  as  in  some  degree  valid.  But  when 
so  much  is  granted,  the  rest  of  what  Plato  says  by  no  means 
follows. 

In  the  first  place,  Plato  has  no  understanding  of  philosophical 
syntax.  I  can  say  "Socrates  is  human,"  "Plato  is  human,"  and 
so  on.  In  all  these  statements,  it  may  be  assumed  that  the  word 
"human"  has  exactly  the  same  meaning.  But  whatever  it  means, 
it  means  something  which  is  not  of  the  same  kind  as  Socrates, 

-48 


THE   THEORY   OF    IDEAS 

Plato,  and  the  rest  of  the  individuals  who  compose  the  human 
race.  "Human"  is  an  adjective;  it  would  be  nonsense  to  say 
"human  is  human."  Plato  makes  a  mistake  analogous  to  saying 
"human  is  human."  He  thinks  that  beauty  is  beautiful;  he  thinks 
that  the  universal  "man"  is  the  name  of  a  pattern  man  created 
by  God,  of  whom  actual  men  are  imperfect  and  somewhat  unreal 
copies.  He  fails  altogether  to  realize  how  great  is  the  gap  between 
universals  and  particulars;  his  "ideas"  are  really  just  other  par- 
ticulars, ethically  and  aesthetically  superior  to  the  ordinary  kind* 
He  himself,  at  a  later  date,  began  to  see  this  difficulty,  as  appears 
in  the  Parmenides,  which  contains  one  of  the  most  remarkable 
cases  in  history  of  self-criticism  by  a  philosopher. 

The  Parmenides  is  supposed  to  be  related  by  Antiphon  (Plato's 
half-brother),  who  alone  remembers  the  conversation,  but  is 
now  only  interested  in  horses.  They  find  him  carrying  a  bridle, 
and  with  difficulty  persuade  him  to  relate  the  famous  discussion 
between  Parmenides,  Zeno,  and  Socrates.  This,  we  are  told,  took 
place  when  Parmenides  was  old  (about  sixty-five),  Zeno  in  middle 
life  (about  forty),  and  Socrates  quite  a  young  man.  Socrates 
expounds  the  theory  of  ideas;  he  is  sure  that  there  are  ideas  of 
likeness,  justices  beauty,  and  goodness;  he  is  not  sure  that  there 
is  an  idea  of  man ;  and  he  rejects  with  indignation  the  suggestion 
that  there  could  be  ideas  of  such  things  as  hair  and  mud  and 
dirt — though,  he  adds,  there  are  times  when  he  thinks  that  there 
is  nothing  without  an  idea.  He  runs  away  from  this  view  because 
he  is  afraid  of  falling  into  a  bottomless  pit  of  nonsense. 

"Yes,  Socrates,  said  Parmenides;  that  is  because  you  are  still 
young ;  the  time  will  come,  if  I  am  not  mistaken,  when  philosophy 
will  have  a  firmer  grasp  of  you,  and  then  you  will  not  despise 
even  the  meanest  things/' 

Socrates  agrees  that,  in  his  view,  "There  are  certain  ideas  of 
which  ail  other  things  partake,  and  from  which  they  derive  their 
names;  that  similars,  for  example,  become  similar,  because  they 
partake  of  similarity;  and  great  things  become  great,  because 
they  partake  of  greatness;  and  that  just  and  beautiful  things 
become  just  and  beautiful,  because  they  partake  of  justice  and 
beauty." 

Parmenides  proceeds  to  raise  difficulties,  (a)  Does  the  individual 
partake  of  the  wh<fle  idea,  or  only  of  a  part  ?  To  either  view  there 
are  objections.  If  the  former,  one  thing  is  in  many  places  at  once; 


WESTERN   PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

if  the  latter,  the  idea  is  divisible,  and  a  thing  which  has  a  part  of 
smallness  will  be  smaller  than  absolute  smallness,  which  is  absurd. 
(b)  When  an  individual  partakes  of  an  idea,  the  individual  and 
the  idea  are  similar;  therefore  there  will  have  to  be  another  idea, 
embracing  both  the  particulars  and  the  original  idea.  And  there 
will  have  to  be  yet  another,  embracing  the  particulars  and  the 
two  ideas,  and  so  on  ad  mfintium.  Thus  every  idea,  instead  of 
being  one,  becomes  an  infinite  series  of  ideas.  (This  is  the  same 
as  Aristotle's  argument  of  the  "third  man.")  (c)  Socrates  suggests 
that  perhaps  ideas  are  only  thoughts,  but  Parmenides  points 
out  that  thoughts  must  be  of  something,  (d)  Ideas  cannot  resemble 
the  particulars  that  partake  of  them,  for  the  reason  given  in  (b) 
above.  (*)  Ideas,  if  there  are  any,  must  be  unknown  to  us,  because 
our  knowledge  is  not  absolute.  (/)  If  God's  knowledge  is  absolute, 
He  will  not  know  us,  and  therefore  cannot  rule  us. 

Nevertheless,  the  theory  of  ideas  is  not  wholly  abandoned. 
Without  ideas,  Socrates  says,  there  will  be  nothing  on  which  the 
mind  can  rest,  and  therefore  reasoning  will  be  destroyed.  Par* 
menides  tells  him  that  his  troubles  come  of  lack  of  previous 
training,  but  no  definite  conclusion  is  reached. 

I  do  not  think  that  Plato's  logical  objections  to  the  reality  of 
sensible  particulars  will  bear  examination.  He  says,  for  example, 
that  whatever  is  beautiful  is  also  in  some  respects  ugly;  what  is 
double  is  also  half;  and  so  on.  But  when  we  say  of  some  work  of 
art  that  it  is  beautiful  in  some  respects  and  ugly  in  others,  analysis 
will  always  (at  least  theoretically)  enable  us  to  say  "this  part  or 
aspect  is  beautiful,  while  that  part  or  aspect  is  ugly."  And  as 
regards  "double"  and  "half,"  these  are  relative  terms;  there  is 
no  contradiction  in  the  fact  that  2  is  double  of  i  and  half  of  4. 
Plato  is  perpetually  getting  into  trouble  through  not  understanding 
relative  terms.  He  thinks  that  if  A  is  greater  than  B  and  less  than 
C,  then  A  is  at  once  great  and  small,  which  seems  to  him  a  contra- 
diction. Such  troubles  are  among  the  infantile  diseases  of  philo- 
sophy. 

The  distinction  between  reality  and  appearance  cannot  have 
the  consequences  attributed  to  it  by  Parmenides  and  Plato  and 
Hegel.  If  appearance  really  appears,  it  is  not  nothing,  and  is 
therefore  pan  of  reality;  this  is  an  argument  of  the  correct  Par- 
menidean  sort.  If  appearance  does  not  really  appear,  why  trouble 
our  heads  about  it?  But  perhaps  some  one  will  say:  "Appearance 

150 


THE   THEORY   OF   IDEAS 

does  not  really  appear,  but  it  appears  to  appear."  This  will  not 
help,  for  we  shall  ask  again:  "Does  it  really  appear  to  appear, 
or  only  apparently  appear  to  appear?"  Sooner  or  later,  if  appear- 
ance is  even  to  appear  to  appear,  we  must  reach  something  that 
really  appears,  and  is  therefore  part  of  reality.  Plato  would  not 
dream  of  denying  that  there  appear  to  be  many  beds,  although 
there  is  only  one  real  bed,  namely  the  one  made  by  God.  But 
he  does  not  seem  to  have  faced  the  implications  of  the  fact  that 
there  are  many  appearances,  and  that  this  many-ness  is  part  of 
reality.  Any  attempt  to  divide  the  world  into  portions,  of  which 
one  is  more  "real"  than  the  other,  is  doomed  to  failure. 

Connected  with  this  is  another  curious  view  of  Plato's,  that 
knowledge  and  opinion  must  be  concerned  with  different  subject- 
matters.  We  should  say:  If  I  think  it  is  going  to  snow,  that  is 
opinion;  if  later  I  see  it  snowing,  that  is  knowledge;  but  the 
subject-matter  is  the  same  on  both  occasions.  Plato,  however, 
thinks  that  what  can  at  any  time  be  a  matter  ot  opinion  can  never 
be  a  matter  of  knowledge.  Knowledge  is  certain  and  infallible; 
opinion  is  not  merely  fallible,  but  is  necessarily  mistaken,  since  it 
assumes  the  reality  of  what  is  only  appearance.  All  this  repeats 
what  had  been  said  by  Parmenides. 

There  is  one  respect  in  which  Plato's  metaphysic  is  apparently 
different  from  that  of  Parmenides.  For  Parmenides  there  is  only 
the  One;  for  Plato,  there  are  many  ideas.  There  are  not  only 
beauty,  truth,  and  goodness,  but,  as  we  saw,  there  is  the  heavenly 
bed,  created  by  God;  there  is  a  heavenly  man,  a  heavenly  dog, 
a  heavenly  cat,  and  so  on  through  a  whole  Noah's  ark.  All  this 
however,  seems,  in  the  Republic ,  to  have  been  not  adequately 
thought  out.  A  Platonic  idea  or  form  is  not  a  thought,  thougk  it 
may  be  the  object  of  a  thought.  It  is  difficult  to  see  how  God 
can  have  created  it,  since  its  being  is  timeless,  and  he  could  not 
have  decided  to  create  a  bed  unless  his  thought,  when  he  decided, 
had  had  for  its  object  that  very  Platonic  bed  which  we  are  told 
he  brought  into  existence.  What  is  timeless  must  be  uncreated. 
We  come  here  to  a  difficulty  which  has  troubled  many  philosophic 
theologians.  Only  the  contingent  world,  the  world  in  space  and 
time,  can  have  been  created;  but  this  is  the  everyday  world  which 
has  been  condemned  as  illusory  and  also  bad.  Therefore  the 
Creator,  it  would* seem,  created  only  illusion  and  evil.  Some 
Gnostics  \vere  so  consistent  as  to  adopt  this  view;  but  in  Plato 

'5* 


WESTERN   PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

the  difficulty  is  still  below  the  surface,  and  he  seems,  in  the  Repub- 
lic, to  have  never  become  aware  of  it. 

The  philosopher  who  is  to  be  a  guardian  must,  according  to 
Plato,  return  into  the  cave,  and  live  among  those  who  have  never 
seen  the  sun  of  truth.  It  would  seem  that  God  Himself,  if  He 
wishes  to  amend  His  creation,  must  do  likewise;  a  Christian 
Platonist  might  so  interpret  the  Incarnation.  But  it  remains 
completely  impossible  to  explain  why  God  was  not  content 
with  the  world  of  ideas.  The  philosopher  finds  the  cave  in  existence, 
and  is  actuated  by  benevolence  in  returning  to  it ;  but  the  Creator, 
if  He  created  everything,  might,  one  would  think,  have  avoided 
the  cave  altogether. 

Perhaps  this  difficulty  arises  only  from  the  Christian  notion 
of  a  Creator,  and  is  not  chargeable  to  Plato,  who  says  that  God 
did  not  create  everything,  but  only  what  is  good.  The  multiplicity 
of  the  sensible  world,  on  this  view,  would  have  some  other  source 
than  God.  And  the  ideas  would,  perhaps,  be  not  so  much  created 
by  God  as  constituents  of  His  essence.  The  apparent  pluralism 
involved  in  the  multiplicity  of  ideas  would  thus  not  be  ultimate. 
Ultimately  there  is  only  God,  or  the  Good,  to  whom  the  ideas  are 
adjectival.  This,  at  any  rate,  is  a  possible  interpretation  of  Plato. 
Plato  proceeds  to  an  interesting  sketch  of  the  education  proper 
to  a  young  man  who  is  to  be  a  guardian.  We  saw  that  the  young 
man  is  selected  for  this  honour  on  the  ground  of  a  combination  of 
intellectual  and  moral  qualities;  he  must  be  just  and  gentle,  fond 
of  learning,  with  a  good  memory  and  a  harmonious  mind.  The 
young  man  who  has  been  chosen  for  these  merits  will  spend  the 
years  from  twenty  to  thirty  on  the  four  Pythagorean  studies: 
arithmetic,  geometry  (plane  and  solid),  astronomy,  and  harmony. 
These  studies  are  not  to  be  pursued  in  any  utilitarian  spirit,  but 
in  order  to  prepare  his  mind  for  the  vision  of  eternal  things.  In 
astronomy,  for  example,  he  is  not  to  trouble  himself  too  much 
about  the  actual  heavenly  bodies,  but  rather  with  the  mathematics 
of  the  motion  of  ideal  heavenly  bodies.  This  may  sound  absurd  to 
modern  ears,  but,  strange  to  say,  it  proved  to  be  a  fruitful  point 
of  view  in  connection  with  empirical  astronomy.  The  way  this 
came  about  is  curious,  and  worth  considering. 

The  apparent  motions  of  the  planets,  until  they  have  been 
very  profoundly  analysed,  appear  to  be  irregular  and  complicated, 
and  not  at  all  such  &*  a  Pythagorean  Creator  would  tyvc  chosen. 

152 


THE  THEORY   OF    IDEAS 

It  was  obvious  to  every  Greek  that  the  heavens  ought  to  exemplify 
mathematical  beauty,  which  would  only  be  the  case  if  the  planets 
moved  in  circles.  This  would  be  especially  evident  to  Plato, 
owing  to  his  emphasis  on  the  good.  The  problem  thus  arose:  is 
there  any  hypothesis  which  will  reduce  the  apparent  disorderliness 
of  planetary  motions  to  order  and  beauty  and  simplicity?  If 
there  is,  the  idea  of  the  good  will  justify  us  in  asserting  this 
hypothesis.  Aristarchus  of  Samos  found  such  a  hypothesis:  that 
all  the  planets,  including  the  earth,  go  round  the  sun  in  circles. 
This  view  was  rejected  for  two  thousand  years,  partly  on  the 
authority  of  Aristotle,  who  attributes  a  rather  similar  hypothesis 
to  "the  Pythagoreans"  (De  Coelo,  293  a).  It  was  revived  by 
Copernicus,  and  its  success  might  seem  to  justify  Plato's  aesthetic 
bias  in  astronomy.  Unfortunately,  however,  Kepler  discovered 
that  the  planets  move  in  ellipses,  not  in  circles,  with  the  sun 
at  a  focus,  not  at  the  centre;  then  Newton  discovered  that  they 
do  not  move  even  in  exact  ellipses.  And  so  the  geometrical  sim- 
plicity sought  by  Plato,  and  apparently  found  by  Aristarchus  of 
Samos,  proved  in  the  end  illusory. 

This  piece  of  scientific  history  illustrates  a  general  maxim :  that 
any  hypothesis,  however  absurd,  may  be  useful  in  science,  if  it 
enables  a  discoverer  to  conceive  things  in  a  new  way;  but  that, 
when  it  has  served  this  purpose  by  luck,  it  is  likely  to  become  an 
obstacle  to  further  advance.  The  belief  in  the  good  as  the  key  to 
the  scientific  understanding  of  the  world  was  useful,  at  a  certain 
stage,  in  astronomy,  but  at  every  later  stage  it  was  harmful.  The 
ethical  and  aesthetic  bias  of  Plato,  and  still  more  of  Aristotle, 
did  much  to  kill  Greek  science. 

It  is  noteworthy  that  modern  Platonists,  with  few  exceptions, 
are  ignorant  of  mathematics,  in  spite  of  the  immense  importance 
that  Plato  attached  to  arithmetic  and  geometry,  and  the  immense 
influence  that  they  had  on  his  philosophy.  This  is  an  example 
of  the  evils  of  specialization:  a  man  must  not  write  on  Plato  unless 
he  has  spent  so  much  of  his  youth  on  Greek  as  to  have  had  no 
time  for  the  things  that  Plato  thought  important. 


'53 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

I  have  good  hope  that  there  is  yet  something  remaining  for  the 
dead,  some  far  better  thing  for  the  good  than  for  the  evil." 

Death,  says  Socrates,  is  the  separation  of  soul  and  body.  Here 
we  come  under  Plato's  dualism:  between  reality  and  appearance, 
ideas  and  sensible  objects,  reason  and  sense-perception,  soul  and 
body.  These  pairs  are  connected:  the  first  in  each  pair  is  superior 
to  the  second  both  in  reality  and  in  goodness.  An  ascetic  morality 
was  the  natural  consequence  of  this  dualism.  Christianity  adopted 
this  doctrine  in  part,  but  never  wholly.  There  were  two  obstacles. 
The  first  was  that  the  creation  of  the  visible  world,  if  Plato  was 
right,  might  seem  to  have  been  an  evil  deed,  and  therefore  the 
Creator  could  not  be  good.  The  second  was  that  orthodox  Christi- 
anity could  never  bring  itself  to  condemn  marriage,  though  it 
held  celibacy  to  be  nobler.  The  Manichaeans  were  more  consistent 
in  both  respects. 

The  distinction  between  mind  and  matter,  which  has  become 
a  commonplace  in  philosophy  and  science  and  popular  thought, 
has  a  religious  origin,  and  began  as  the  distinction  of  soul  and  body. 
The  Orphic,  as  we  saw,  proclaims  himself  the  child  of  earth  and 
of  the  starry  heaven ;  from  earth  comes  the  body,  from  heaven  the 
soul.  It  is  this  theory  that  Plato  seeks  to  express  in  the  language 
of  philosophy. 

Socrates,  in  the  Phaedo,  proceeds  at  once  to  develop  the  ascetic 
implications  of  his  doctrine,  but  his  asceticism  is  of  a  moderate  and 
gentlemanly  sort.  He  does  not  say  that  the  philosopher  should 
wholly  abstain  from  ordinary  pleasures,  but  only  that  he  should 
not  be  a  slave  to  them.  The  philosopher  should  not  care  about 
eating  and  drinking,  but  of  coune  he  should  eat  as  much  as  is 
necessary;  there  is  no  suggestion  of  fasting.  And  we  are  told  that 
Socrates,  though  indifferent  to  wine,  could,  on  occasion,  drink 
more  than  anybody  else,  without  ever  becoming  intoxicated. 
It  was  not  drinking  that  he  condemned,  but  pleasure  in  drinking. 
In  like  manner,  the  philosopher  must  not  care  for  the  pleasures 
of  love,  or  for  costly  raiment,  or  sandals,  or  other  adornments 
of  the  person.  He  must  be  entirely  concerned  with  the  soul, 
and  not  with  the  body.  "He  would  like,  as  far  as  he  can,  to  get 
away  from  the  body  and  to  turn  to  the  soul." 

It  is  obvious  that  this  doctrine,  popularized,  would  become 
ascetic,  but  in  intention  it  is  not,  properly' speaking,  ascetic. 
The  philosopher  will  not  abstain  with  an  effort  from  the  pleasures 


PLATO'S  THEORY  OF  IMMORTALITY 

of  sense,  but  will  be  thinking  of  other  things.  I  have  known  many 
philosophers  who  forgot  their  meals,  and  read  a  book  when  at 
last  they  did  eat.  These  men  were  acting  as  Plato  says  they  should: 
they  were  not  abstaining  from  gluttony  by  means  of  a  moral 
effort,  but  were  more  interested  in  other  matters.  Apparently 
the  philosopher  should  marry,  and  beget  and  rear  children,  in 
the  same  absent-minded  way,  but  since  the  emancipation  of 
women  this  has  become  more  difficult.  No  wonder  Xanthippe 
was  a  shrew. 

Philosophers,  Socrates  continues,  try  to  dissever  the  soul  from 
communion  with  thfe  body,  whereas  other  people  think  that  life  is 
not  worth  living  for  a  man  who  has  "no  sense  of  pleasure  and  no 
part  in  bodily  pleasure."  In  this  phrase,  Plato  seems — perhaps 
inadvertently — to  countenance  the  view  of  a  certain  class  of 
moralists,  that  bodily  pleasures  are  the  only  ones  that  count. 
These  moralists  hold  that  the  man  who  does  not  seek  the  pleasures 
of  sense  must  be  eschewing  pleasure  altogether,  and  living  virtu- 
ously. This  is  an  error  which  has  done  untold  harm.  In  so  far  as 
the  division  of  mind  and  body  can  be  accepted,  the  worst  pleasures, 
as  well  as  the  best,  are  mental — for  example,  envy,  and  many 
forms  of  cruelty  and  love  of  power.  Milton's  Satan  rises  superior 
to  physical  torment,  and  devotes  himself  to  a  work  of  destruction 
from  which  he  derives  a  pleasure  that  is  wholly  of  the  mind. 
Many  eminent  ecclesiastics,  having  renounced  the  pleasures  of 
sense,  and  not  being  on  their  guard  against  others,  become 
dominated  by  love  of  power,  which  led  them  to  appalling  cruelties 
and  persecutions,  nominally  for  the  sake  of  religion.  In  our  own 
day,  Hitler  belongs  to  this  type;  by  all  accounts,  the  pleasures  of 
sense  are  of  very  little  importance  to  him.  Liberation  from  the 
tyranny  of  the  body  contributes  to  greatness,  but  just  as  much  to 
greatness  in  sin  as  to  greatness  in  virtue. 

This,  however,  is  a  digression,  from  which  we  must  return  to 
Socrates. 

We  come  now  to  the  intellectual  aspect  of  the  religion  which 
Plato  (rightly  or  wrongly)  attributes  to  Socrates.  We  are  told 
that  the  body  is  a  hindrance  in  the  acquisition  of  knowledge,  and 
that  sight  and  hearing  are  inaccurate  witnesses:  true  existence, 
if  revealed  to  the  soul  at  all,  is  revealed  in  thought,  not  in  sense. 
Ixrt  us  consider,  for* a  moment,  the  implications  of  this  doctrine. 
It  involves  a  complete  rejection  of  empirical  knowledge,  including 

157 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

all  history  and  geography.  We  cannot  know  that  there  was  such 
a  place  as  Athens,  or  such  a  man  as  Socrates;  his  death,  and  his 
courage  in  dying,  belong  to  the  world  of  appearance.  It  is  only 
through  sight  and  hearing  that  we  know  anything  about  all  this, 
and  the  true  philosopher  ignores  sight  and  hearing.  What,  then, 
is  left  to  him?  First,  logic  and  mathematics;  but  these  are  hypo- 
thetical, and  do  not  justify  any  categorical  assertion  about  the  real 
world.  The  next  step— and  this  is  the  crucial  one— depends  upon 
the  idea  of  the  good.  Having  arrived  at  this  idea,  the  philosopher 
is  supposed  to  know  that  the  good  is  the  real,  and  thus  to  be  able 
to  infer  that  the  world  of  ideas  is  the  real  world.  Later  philosophers 
had  arguments  to  prove  the  identity  of  the  real  and  the  good,  but 
Plato  seems  to  have  assumed  it  as  self-evident.  If  we  wish  to 
understand  him,  we  must,  hypothetically,  suppose  this  assumption 
justified. 

Thought  is  best,  Socrates  says,  when  the  mind  is  gathered  into 
itself,  and  is  not  troubled  by  sounds  or  sights  or  pain  or  pleasure 
but  takes  leave  of  the  body  and  aspires  after  true  being;  "and  in 
this  the  philosopher  dishonours  the  body/'  From  this  point, 
Socrates  goes  on  to  the  ideas  or  forms  or  essences.  There  is 
absolute  justice,  absolute  beauty,  and  absolute  good,  but  they  are 
not  visible  to  the  eye.  "And  I  speak  not  of  these  alone,  but  of 
absolute  greatness,  and  health,  and  strength,  and  of  the  essence 
or  true  nature  of  everything."  All  these  are  only  to  be  seen  by 
intellectual  vision.  Therefore  while  we  are  in  the  body,  and  while 
the  soul  is  infected  with  the  evils  of  the  body,  our  desire  for  truth 
Mill  not  be  satisfied. 

This  point  of  view  excludes  scientific  observation  and  experi- 
ment as  methods  for  the  attainment  of  knowledge.  The  experi- 
menter's mind  is  not  "gathered  into  itself,"  and  docs  not  aim  at 
avoiding  sounds  or  sights.  The  two  kinds  of  mental  activity  that 
can  be  pursued  by  the  method  that  Plato  recommends  are  mathe- 
matics and  mystic  insight.  This  explains  how  these  two  come  to 
be  so  intimately  combined  in  Plato  and  the  Pythagoreans. 

To  the  empiricist,  the  body  is  what  brings  us  into  touch  with 
the  world  of  external  reality,  bat  to  Plato  it  is  doubly  evil,  as  a 
distorting  medium,  causing  us  to  see  as  through  a  glass  darkly, 
and  as  a  source  of  lusts  which  distract  us  from  the  pursuit  of 
knowledge  and  the  vision  of  truth.  Some  Quotations  will  mike 
this  dear. 


PLATO'S  THEORY  OF  IMMORTALITY 

The  body  is  the  source  of  endless  trouble  to  us  by  reason  of 
the  mere  requirement  of  food;  and  is  liable  also  to  diseases  which 
overtake  and  impede  us  in  the  search  after  true  being:  it  fills  us 
full  of  loves,  and  lusts,  and  fears,  and  fancies  of  all  kinds,  and  end- 
less foolery,  and  in  fact,  as  men  say,  takes  away  from  us  all  power 
of  thinking  at  all.  Whence  come  wars,  and  fightings  and  factions? 
Whence  but  from  the  body  and  the  lusts  of  the  body?  Wars  are 
occasioned  by  the  love  of  money,  and  money  has  to  be  acquired 
for  the  sake  and  in  the  service  of  the  body;  and  by  reason  of  all 
these  impediments  we  have  no  time  to  give  to  philosophy;  and, 
last  and  worst  of  all,  even  if  we  are  at  leisure  to  betake  ourselves 
to  some  speculation,  the  body  is  always  breaking  in  upon  us, 
causing  turmoil  and  confusion  in  our  inquiries,  and  so  amazing  us 
that  we  are  prevented  from  seeing  the  truth.  It  has  been  proved 
to  us  by  experience  that  if  we  would  have  true  knowledge  of 
anything  we  must  be  quit  of  the  body — the  soul  in  herself  must 
behold  things  in  themselves:  and  then  we  shall  attain  the  wisdom 
which  we  desire,  and  of  which  we  say  we  are  lovers;  not  while  we 
live,  but  after  death ;  for  if  while  in  company  with  the  body  the 
soul  cannot  have  pure  knowledge,  knowledge  must  be  attained 
after  death,  if  at  all. 

And  thus  having  got  rid  of  the  foolishness  of  the  body  we  shall 
he  pure  and  have  converse  with  the  pure,  and  know  of  ourselves 
the  clear  light  everywhere,  which  is  no  other  than  the  light  of 
tnith.  For  the  impure  are  not  permitted  to  approach  the  pure. . .  . 
And  what  is  purification  but  the  separation  of  the  soul  from  the 
body  ?  .  .  .  And  this  separation  and  release  of  the  soul  from  the 
body  is  termed  death.  .  .  .  And  the  true  philosophers,  and  they 
only,  arc  ever  seeking  to  release  the  soul. 

There  is  one  true  coin  for  which  all  things  ought  to  be  exchanged, 
and  that  is  wisdom. 

The  founders  of  the  mysteries  would  appear  to  have  had  a  real 
meaning,  and  were  not  talking  nonsense  when  they  intimated  in 
a  figure  long  ago  that  he  who  passes  unsanctified  and  uninitiated 
into  the  world  below  will  lie  on  a  slough,  but  that  he  who  arrives 
there  after  initiation  and  purification  will  dwell  with  the  gods. 
For  many,  as  they  say  in  the  mysteries,  are  the  thyrsus-bearers,  but 
few  are  the  mystics,  meaning,  as  1  interpret  the  words,  the  true 
philosophers. 

All  this  language  is  mystical,  and  is  derived  from  the  mysteries. 
"Purity"  is  an  Orphic  conception,  having  primarily  a  ritual 
meaning,  but  for  Pilto  it  means  freedom  from  slavery  to  the  body 
and  its  needs.  It  it  interesting  to  find  him  saying  that  wars  are 


WESTERN   PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

caused  by  love  of  money,  and  that  money  is  only  needed  for  the 
service  of  the  body.  The  first  half  of  this  opinion  is  the  same  as 
that  held  by  Marx,  but  the  second  belongs  to  a  very  different  out- 
look. Plato  thinks  that  a  man  could  live  on  very  little  money  if  his 
wants  were  reduced  to  a  minimum,  and  this  no  doubt  is  true.  But 
he  also  thinks  that  a  philosopher  should  be  exempt  from  manual 
labour;  he  must  therefore  live  on  wealth  created  by  others.  In  a 
very  poor  State  there  are  likely  to  be  no  philosophers.  It  was  the 
imperialism  of  Athens  in  the  age  of  Pericles  that  made  it  possible 
for  Athenians  to  study  philosophy.  Speaking  broadly,  intellectual 
goods  are  just  as  expensive  as  more  material  commodities,  and 
just  as  little  independent  of  economic  conditions.  Science  requires 
libraries,  laboratories,  telescopes,  microscopes,  and  so  on,  and 
men  of  science  have  to  be  supported  by  the  labour  of  others.  But 
to  the  mystic  all  this  is  foolishness.  A  holy  man  in  India  or  Tibet 
needs  no  apparatus,  wears  only  a  loin  cloth,  eats  only  rice,  and  is 
supported  by  very  meagre  charity  because  he  is  thought  wise. 
This  is  the  logical  development  of  Plato's  point  of  view. 

To  return  to  the  Phaedo:  Cehcs  expresses  doubt  as  to  the 
survival  of  the  soul  after  death,  and  urges  Socrates  to  offer  argu- 
ments. This  he  proceeds  to  do,  but  it  must  be  said  that  the  argu- 
ments are  very  poor. 

Tlit  first  argument  is  that  all  things  which  have  opposites  arc 
generated  from  their  opposites — a  statement  which  reminds  us  of 
Anaximander's  views  on  cosmic  justice.  Now  life  and  death  are 
opposites,  and  therefore  each  must  generate  the  other.  It  follows 
that  the  souk  of  the  dead  exist  somewhere,  and  come  back  to 
earth  in  due  course.  St.  Paul's  statement,  "the  seed  is  not 
quickened  except  it  die,"  seems  to  belong  to  some  such  theory  as 
this. 

The  second  argument  is  that  knowledge  is  recollection,  and 
therefore  the  soul  must  have  existed  before  birth.  The  theory  that 
knowledge  is  recollection  is  supported  chiefly  by  the  fact  that  we 
have  ideas,  such  as  exact  equality,  which  cannot  be  derived  from 
experience.  We  have  experience  of  approximate  equality,  but 
absolute  equality  is  never  found  among  sensible  objects,  and  yet 
we  know  what  we  mean  by  "absolute  equality."  Since  we  have 
not  learnt  this  from  experience,  we  must  have  brought  the  know- 
ledge with  us  from  a  previous  existence.  A  similar  argument,  he 
says,  applies  to  all  other  ideas.  Thus  the  existence  of  essences, 

160 


PLATO'S  THEORY  OF  IMMORTALITY 

and  our  capacity  to  apprehend  them,  proves  the  pre-existence  of 
the  soul  with  knowledge. 

The  contention  that  all  knowledge  is  reminiscence  is  developed 
at  greater  length  in  the  Meno  (82  ff.).  Here  Socrates  says  "there  is 
no  teaching,  but  only  recollection."  He  professes  to  prove  his  point 
by  having  Meno  call  in  a  slave-boy  whom  Socrates  proceeds  to 
question  on  geometrical  problems.  The  boy's  answers  are  supposed 
to  show  that  he  really  knows  geometry,  although  he  has  hitherto 
been  unaware  of  possessing  this  knowledge.  The  same  conclusion 
is  drawn  in  the  Meno  as  in  the  Phaedo,  that  knowledge  is  brought 
by  the  soul  from  a  previous  existence. 

As  to  this,  one  may  observe,  in  the  first  place,  that  the  argument 
is  wholly  inapplicable  to  empirical  knowledge.  The  slave-boy 
could  not  have  been  led  to  "remember"  when  the  Pyramids  were 
built,  or  whether  the  siege  of  Troy  really  occurred,  unless  he  had 
happened  to  be  present  at  these  events.  Only  the  sort  of  knowledge 
that  is  called  a  priori — especially  logic  and  mathematics— can  be 
possibly  supposed  to  exist  in  every  one  independently  of  experience. 
In  fact,  this  is  the  only  sort  of  knowledge  (apart  from  mystic 
insight)  that  Plato  admits  to  be  really  knowledge.  Let  us  see  how 
the  argument  can  be  met  in  regard  to  mathematics. 

Take  the  concept  of  equality.  We  must  admit  that  we  have  no 
experience,  among  sensible  objects,  of  exact  equality ;  we  see  only 
approximate  equality.  How,  then,  do  we  arrive  at  the  idea  of 
absolute  equality?  Or  do  we,  perhaps,  have  no  such  idea? 

Let  us  take  a  concrete  case.  The  metre  is  defined  as  the  length 
of  a  certain  rod  in  Paris  at  a  certain  temperature.  What  should  we 
mean  if  we  said,  of  some  other  rod,  that  its  length  was  exactly 
one  metre?  I  don't  think  \ve  should  mean  anything.  We  could 
say:  The  most  accurate  processes  of  measurement  known  to 
science  at  the  present  day  fail  to  show  that  our  rod  is  either  longer 
or  shorter  than  the  standard  metre  in  Paris.  We  might,  if  we  were 
sufficiently  rash,  add  a  prophecy  that  no  subsequent  refinements 
in  the  technique  of  measurement  will  alter  this  result.  But  this 
is  still  an  empirical  statement,  in  the  sense  that  empirical  evidence 
may  at  any  moment  disprove  it.  I  do  not  think  we  really  possess 
the  idea  of  absolute  equality  that  Plato  supposes  us  to  possess. 

But  even  if  we  do,  it  is  clear  that  no  child  possesses  it  until  it 
reaches  a  certain  afce,  and  that  the  idea  is  elidttd  by  experience, 
although  not  directly  derived  from  experience.  Moreover,  unless 

1 6l  F 


WESTERN   PHILOSOPHICAL  THOUGHT 

our  existence  before  birth  was  not  one  of  sense-perception,  it 
would  have  been  as  incapable  of  generating  the  idea  as  this  life 
is;  and  if  our  previous  existence  is  supposed  to  have  been  partly 
super-sensible,  why  not  make  the  same  supposition  concerning 
our  present  existence?  On  all  these  grounds,  the  argument  fails. 

The  doctrine  of  reminiscence  being  considered  established, 
Cebes  says:  "About  half  of  what  was  required  has  been  proven; 
to  wit,  that  our  souls  existed  before  we  were  born: — that  the 
soul  will  exist  after  death  as  well  as  before  birth  is  the  other  half 
of  which  the  proof  is  still  wanting."  Socrates  accordingly  applies 
himself  to  this.  He  says  that  it  follows  from  what  was  said  about 
everything  being  generated  from  its  opposite,  according  to  which 
death  must  generate  life  just  as  much  as  life  generates  death.  But 
he  adds  another  argument,  which  had  a  longer  history  in  philo- 
sophy: that  only  what  is  complex  can  be  dissolved,  and  that  the 
soul,  like  the  ideas,  is  simple  and  not  compounded  of  parts.  What 
is  simple,  it  is  thought,  cannot  begin  or  end  or  change.  Now 
essences  are  unchanging:  absolute  beauty,  for  example,  is  always 
the  same,  whereas  beautiful  things  continually  change.  Thus 
things  seen  are  temporal,  but  things  unseen  are  eternal.  The  body 
is  seen,  but  the  soul  is  unseen ;  therefore  the  soul  is  to  be  classified 
in  the  group  of  things  that  are  eternal. 

The  soul,  being  eternal,  is  at  home  in  the  contemplation  of 
eternal  things,  that  is,  essences,  but  is  lost  and  confused  when, 
as  in  sense-perception,  it  contemplates  the  world  of  changing 
things. 

The  soul,  when  using  the  body  as  an  instrument  of  perception, 
that  is  to  say,  when  using  the  sense  of  sight  or  hearing  or  some 
other  sense  (for  the  meaning  of  perceiving  through  the  body  is 
perceiving  through  the  senses)  ...  is  then  dragged  by  the  body 
into  the  region  of  the  changeable,  and  wanders  and  is  confused ; 
the  world  spins  round  her,  and  she  is  like  a  drunkard,  when  she 
touches  change.  .  .  .  But  when  returning  into  herself  she  reflects, 
then  she  passes  into  the  other  world,  the  region  of  purity,  and 
eternity,  and  immortality,  and  unchangeableness,  which  arc  her 
kindred,  and  with  them  she  ever  lives,  when  she  is  by  herself,  and 
is  not  let  or  hindered ;  then  she  ceases  from  her  erring  ways,  and 
being  in  communion  with  the  unchanging  is  unchanging.  And  this 
state  of  the  soul  is  called  wisdom. 

The  soul  of  the  true  philosopher,  which  has,  in  life,  been 

162 


PLATO'S  THEORY  OP  IMMORTALITY 

liberated  from  thraldom  to  the  flesh,  will,  after  death,  depart  to 
the  invisible  world,  to  live  in  bliss  in  the  company  of  the  gods. 
But  the  impure  soul,  which  has  loved  the  body,  will  become  a 
ghost  haunting  the  sepulchre,  or  will  enter  into  the  body  of  an 
animal,  such  as  an  ass  or  wolf  or  hawk,  according  to  its  character. 
A  man  who  has  been  virtuous  without  being  a  philosopher  will 
become  a  bee  or  wasp  or  ant,  or  some  other  animal  of  a  gregarious 
and  social  sort. 

Only  the  true  philosopher  goes  to  heaven  when  he  dies.  "No 
one  who  has  not  studied  philosophy  and  who  is  not  entirely  pure 
at  the  time  of  his  departure  is  allowed  to  enter  the  company  of 
the  Gods,  but  the  lover  of  knowledge  only."  That  is  why  the  true 
votaries  of  philosophy  abstain  from  fleshly  lusts:  not  that  they 
fear  poverty  or  disgrace,  but  because  they  "are  conscious  that  the 
soul  was  simply  fastened  or  glued  to  the  body — until  philosophy 
received  her,  she  could  only  view  real  existence  through  the  bars 
of  a  prison,  not  in  and  through  herself,  .  .  .  and  by  reason  of  lust 
had  become  the  principal  accomplice  in  her  own  captivity."  The 
philosopher  will  be  temperate  because  "each  pleasure  and  pain 
is  a  sort  of  nail  which  nails  and  rivets  the  soul  to  the  body,  until 
si  ie  becomes  like  the  body,  and  believes  that  to  be  true  which  the 
body  affirms  to  be  true." 

At  this  point,  Simmias  brings  up  the  Pythagorean  opinion  that 
the  soul  is  a  harmony,  and  urges:  if  the  lyre  is  broken,  can  the 
harmony  survive?  Socrates  replies  that  the  soul  is  not  a  harmony, 
for  a  harmony  is  complex,  but  the  soul  is  simple.  Moreover,  he 
says,  the  view  that  the  soul  is  a  harmony  is  incompatible  with  its 
pre-existcnce,  which  was  proved  by  the  doctrine  of  reminiscence; 
for  the  harmony  does  not  exist  before  the  lyre. 

Socrates  proceeds  to  give  an  account  of  his  own  philosophical 
development,  which  is  very  interesting,  but  not  germane  to  the 
main  argument.  He  goes  on  to  expound  the  doctrine  of  ideas, 
leading  to  the  conclusion  "that  ideas  exist,  and  that  other  things 
participate  in  them  and  derive  their  names  from  them.*'  At  last 
lie  describes  the  fate  of  souls  after  death:  the  good  go  to  heaven, 
the  bad  to  hell,  the  intermediate  to  purgatory. 

His  end,  and  his  farewells,  are  described.  His  last  words  are: 
"Crito,  I  owe  a  cock  to  Asclepius;  will  you  remember  to  pay  the 
debt?"  Men  paid  A  cock  to  Asclepius  when  they  recovered  from 
tn  illness,  and  Socrates  has  recovered  from  life's  fitful  fever. 

163 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

"Of  aU  the  men  of  his  time/*  Phaedo  concludes,  "he  was  the 
wisest  and  justest  and  best." 

The  Platonic  Socrates  was  a  pattern  to  subsequent  philosophers 
for  many  ages.  What  are  we  to  think  of  him  ethically?  (I  am  con- 
cerned only  with  the  man  as  Plato  portrays  him.)  His  merits  are 
obvious.  He  is  indifferent  to  worldly  success,  so  devoid  of  fear  that 
he  remains  calm  and  urbane  and  humorous  to  the  last  moment, 
caring  more  for  what  he  believes  to  be  truth  than  for  anything 
else  whatever.  He  has,  however,  some  very  grave  defects.  He  is 
dishonest  and  sophistical  in  argument,  and  in  his  private  thinking 
he  uses  intellect  to  prove  conclusions  that  are  to  him  agreeable, 
rather  than  in  a  disinterested  search  for  knowledge.  There  is 
something  smug  and  unctuous  about  him,  which  reminds  one  of 
a  bad  type  of  cleric.  His  courage  in  the  face  of  death  would  have 
been  more  remarkable  if  he  had  not  believed  that  he  was  going 
to  enjoy  eternal  bliss  in  the  company  of  the  gods.  Unlike  some  of 
his  predecessors,  he  was  not  scientific  in  his  thinking,  but  was 
determined  to  prove  the  universe  agreeable  to  his  ethical  standards. 
This  is  treachery  to  truth,  and  the  worst  of  philosophic  sin*.  As 
a  man,  we  may  believe  him  admitted  to  the  communion  of  saints; 
but  as  a  philosopher  he  needs  a  long  residence  in  ;»  scientific 
purgatory. 


Chapter  XVII 
PLATO'S   COSMOGONY 

PLATO'S  cosmogony  is  set  forth  in  the  Timaeus,1  which  was 
translated  into  Latin  by  Cicero,  and  was,  moreover,  the 
only  one  of  the  dialogues  that  was  known  in  the  West  in 
the  Middle  Ages.  Both  then,  and  earlier  in  Neoplatonism,  it 
had  more  influence  than  anything  else  in  Plato,  which  is  curious, 
as  it  certainly  contains  more  that  is  simply  silly  than  is  to  be  found 
in  his  other  writings.  As  philosophy,  it  is  unimportant,  but  his- 
torically it  was  so  influential  that  it  must  be  considered  in  some 
detail. 

The  place  occupied  by  Socrates  in  the  earlier  dialogues  i*  taken, 
in  the  Timaeus,  by  a  Pythagorean,  and  the  doctrines  of  that  school 
are  in  the  main  adopted,  including  (up  to  a  point)  the  view  that 
number-is  the  explanation  of  the  world.  There  is  first  a  summary 
of  the  first  five  books  of  the  Republic,  then  the  myth  of  Atlantis, 
which  is  said  to  have  been  an  island  off  the  Pillars  of  Hercules, 
larger  than  Libya  and  Asia  put  together.  Then  Timaeus,  who  is  a 
Pythagorean  astronomer,  proceeds  to  tell  the  history  of  the  world 
down  to  the  creation  of  man.  What  he  says  is,  in  outline,  as  follows. 
What  is  unchanging  is  apprehended  by  intelligence  and  reason ; 
what  is  changing  is  apprehended  by  opinion.  The  world,  being 
sensible,  cannot  be  eternal,  and  must  have  been  created  by  God. 
Since  God  is  good,  He  made  the  world  after  the  pattern  of  the 
eternal;  being  without  jealousy,  He  wanted  everything  as  like 
Himself  as  possible.  "God  desired  that  all  things  should  be  good, 
and  nothing  bad,  as  far  as  possible."  "Finding  the  whole  visible 
sphere  not  at  rest,  but  moving  in  an  irregular  and  disorderly 
fashion,  out  of  disorder  he  brought  order."  (Thus  it  appears  that 
Plato's  God,  unlike  the  Jewish  and  Christian  God,  did  not  create 
the  world  out  of  nothing,  but  rearranged  pre-existing  material.) 
He  put  intelligence  in  the  soul,  and  the  soul  in  the  body.  He  made 
the  world  as  a  whole  a  living  creature  having  soul  and  intelligence. 
There  is  only  one  world,  not  many,  as  various  pre-Socratics  had 

1  This  dialogue  contains  much  that  is  obscure  and  has  given  rise  to 
controversies  among  commentators.  On  the  whole,  I  find  myself  in  most 
agreement  with  Comford's  admirable  book,  Plato's  Cosmology. 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

taught;  there  cannot  be  more  than  one,  since  it  is  a  created  copy 
designed  to  accord  as  closely  as  possible  with  the  eternal  original 
apprehended  by  God.  The  world  in  its  entirety  is  one  visible 
animal,  comprehending  within  itself  all  other  animals.  It  is  a 
globe,  because  like  is  fairer  than  unlike,  and  only  a  globe  is  alike 
everywhere.  It  rotates,  because  circular  motion  is  the  most  perfect ; 
and  since  this  is  its  only  motion  it  needs  no  feet  or  hands. 

The  four  elements,  fire,  air,  water,  and  earth,  each  of  which 
apparently  is  represented  by  a  number,  are  in  continued  propor- 
tion, i.e.  fire  is  to  air  as  air  is  to  water  and  as  water  is  to  earth.  God 
used  all  the  elements  in  making  the  world,  and  therefore  it  is 
perfect,  and  not  liable  to  old  age  or  disease.  It  is  harmonized  by 
proportion,  which  causes  it  to  have  the  spirit  of  friendship,  and 
therefore  to  be  indissoluble  except  by  God. 

God  made  first  the  soul,  then  the  body.  The  soul  is  compounded 
of  the  indivisible-unchangeable  and  the  divisible-changeable;  it 
is  a  third  and  intermediate  kind  of  essence. 

Here  follows  a  Pythagorean  account  of  the  planets,  leading  to 
an  explanation  of  the  origin  of  time: 

When  the  father  and  creator  saw  the  creature  which  he  had 
made  moving  and  living,  the  created  image  of  the  eternal  gods,  he 
rejoiced,  and  in  his  joy  determined  to  make  the  copy  still  more  like 
the  original ;  and  as  this  was  eternal,  he  sought  to  make  the  universe 
eternal,  so  far  as  might  be.  Now  the  nature  of  the  ideal  being  was 
everlasting,  but  to  bestow  this  attribute  in  its  fulness  upon  a 
creature  was  impossible.  Wherefore  he  resolved  to  have  a  moving 
image  of  eternity,  and  when  be  set  in  order  the  heaven,  he  made  this 
image  eternal  but  moving  according  to  number,  while  eternity 
itself  rests  in  unity;  and  this  image  we  call  Time.1 

Before  this,  there  were  no  days  or  nights.  Of  the  eternal  essence 
we  must  not  say  that  it  tvas  or  will  be ;  only  is  is  correct.  It  is  implied 
that  of  the  "moving  image  of  eternity*1  it  is  correct  to  say  that  it 
was  and  will  be. 

Time  and  the  heavens  came  into  existence  at  the  same  instant. 
God  made  the  sun  so  that  animals  could  learn  arithmetic — without 
the  succession  of  days  and  nights,  one  supposes,  we  should  not 
have  thought  of  numbers.  The  sight  of  day  and  night,  months 
and  years,  has  created  knowledge  of  number  and  given  u*  the 

1  Vaughcn  mutt  have  been  reading  this  pasngc  when  he  wrote  the 
poem  beginning  "I  saw  eternity  the  other  night." 

166 


PLATO'S  COSMOGONY 

conception  of  time,  and  hence  came  philosophy.  This  is  the 
greatest  boon  we  owe  to  sight. 

There  are  (apart  from  the  world  as  a  whole)  four  kinds  of 
animals:  gods,  birds,  fishes,  and  land  animals.  The  gods  are 
mainly  fire;  the  fixed  stars  are  divine  and  eternal  animals.  The 
Creator  told  the  gods  that  he  could  destroy  them,  but  would  not 
do  so.  He  left  it  to  them  to  make  the  mortal  part  of  all  other 
animals,  after  he  had  made  the  immortal  and  divine  part.  (This, 
like  other  passages  about  the  gods  in  Plato,  is  perhaps  not  to  be 
taken  very  seriously.  At  the  beginning,  Timaeus  says  he  seeks 
only  probability,  and  cannot  be  sure.  Many  details  are  obviously 
imaginative,  and  not  meant  literally.) 

The  Creator,  Timaeus  says,  made  one  soul  for  each  star.  Souls 
have  sensation,  love,  fear,  and  anger;  if  they  overcome  these,  they 
live  righteously,  but  if  not,  not.  If  a  man  lives  well,  he  goes,  after 
death,  to  live  happily  for  ever  in  his  star.  But  if  he  lives  badly,  he 
will,  in  the  next  life,  be  a  woman ;  if  he  (or  she)  persists  in  evil- 
doing,  he  (or  she)  will  become  a  brute,  and  go  on  through  trans- 
migrations until  at  last  reason  conquers.  God  put  some  souls  on 
earth,  some  on  the  moon,  some  on  other  planets  and  stars,  and 
left  it  to  the  gods  to  fashion  their  bodies. 

There  are  two  kinds  of  causes,  those  that  are  intelligent,  and 
those  that,  being  moved  by  others,  are,  in  turn,  compelled  to 
move  others.  The  former  are  endowed  with  mind,  and  are  the 
workers  of  things  fair  and  good,  while  the  latter  produce  chance 
effects  without  order  or  design.  Both  sorts  ought  to  be  studied, 
for  the  creation  is  mixed,  being  made  up  of  necessity  and  mind. 
(It  will  be  observed  that  necessity  is  not  subject  to  God's  power.) 
Timaeus  now  proceeds  to  deal  with  the  part  contributed  by 
necessity.1 

Earth,  air,  tire,  and  water  are  not  the  first  principles  or  letters 
or  elements;  they  are  not  even  syllables  or  first  compounds.  Fire, 
for  instance,  should  not  be  called  this,  but  such — that  is  to  say,  it 
is  not  a  substance,  but  rather  a  state  of  substance.  At  this  point, 
the  question  is  raised:  are  intelligible  essences  only  names?  The 
answer  turns,  we  are  told,  on  whether  mind  is  or  is  not  the  same 

1  Cornford  (op.  cit.)  points  out  that  "necessity"  is  not  to  be  con- 
founded with  the  modern  conception  of  a  deterministic  reign  of  law.  The 
things  that  happen  through  "necessity"  are  those  not  brought  about  by 
a  purpose :  they  are  chaotic  and  not  subject  to  laws. 

167 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

thing  as  true  opinion.  If  it  is  not,  knowledge  must  be  knowledge 
of  essences,  and  therefore  essences  cannot  be  mere  names.  Now 
mind  and  true  opinion  certainly  differ,  for  the  one  is  implanted 
by  instruction,  the  other  by  persuasion;  one  is  accompanied  by 
true  reason,  the  other  is  not;  all  men  share  in  true  opinion, 
but  mind  is  the  attribute  of  the  gods  and  of  a  very  few  among 
men. 

This  leads  to  a  somewhat  curious  theory  of  space,  as  something 
intermediate  between  the  world  of  essence  and  the  world  of 
transient  sensible  things. 

There  is  one  kind  of  being  which  is  always  the  same,  uncreated 
and  indestructible,  never  receiving  anything  into  itself  from  with- 
out, nor  itself  going  out  to  any  other,  but  invisible  and  imper- 
ceptible by  any  sense,  and  of  which  the  contemplation  is  granted 
to  intelligence  only.  And  there  is  another  nature  of  the  same  name 
with  it,  and  like  to  it,  perceived  by  sense,  created,  always  in  motion, 
becoming  in  place  and  again  vanishing  out  of  place,  which  is  appre- 
hended by  opinion  and  sense.  And  there  is  a  third  nature,  which 
is  space,  and  is  eternal,  and  admits  not  of  destruction  and  provides 
a  home  for  all  created  things,  and  is  apprehended  without  the  help 
of  sense,  by  a  kind  of  spurious  reason,  and  is  hardly  real ;  which  \vc 
beholding  as  in  a  dream,  say  of  all  existence  that  it  must  of  necessity 
be  in  some  place  and  occupy  a  space,  but  that  what  is  neither  in 
heaven  nor  on  earth  has  no  existence. 

This  is  a  very  difficult  passage,  which  I  do  not  pretend  to  under- 
stand at  all  fully.  The  theory  expressed  must,  I  think,  have  arisen 
from  reflection  on  geometry,  which  appeared  to  be  a  matter  of 
pure  reason,  like  arithmetic,  and  yet  had  to  do  with  space,  which 
was  an  aspect  of  the  sensible  world.  In  general  it  is  fanciful  to 
find  analogies  with  later  philosophers,  but  I  cannot  help  thinking 
that  Kant  must  have  liked  this  view  of  space,  as  one  having  an 
affinity  with  his  own. 

The  true  elements  of  the  material  world,  Timaeus  says,  are  not 
earth,  air,  fire,  and  water,  but  two  sorts  of  right-angled  triangles, 
the  one  which  is  half  a  square  and  the  one  which  is  half  an  equi- 
lateral triangle.  Originally  everything  was  in  confusion,  and  "the 
various  elements  had  different  places  before  they  were  arranged 
so  as  to  form  the  universe/'  But  then  God  fashioned  them  by 
form  and  number,  and  "made  them  as  far  as'possible  the  fairest 
and  best,  out  of  things  which  were  not  fair  and  good."  The  above 

168 


PLATO'S  COSMOGONY 

two  sorts  of  triangles,  we  are  told,  are  the  most  beautiful  forms 
and  therefore  God  used  them  in  constructing  matter.  By  means  of 
these  two  triangles,  it  is  possible  to  construct  four  of  the  five 
regular  solids,  and  each  atom  of  one  of  the  four  elements  is  a 
regular  solid.  Atoms  of  earth  are  cubes;  of  fire,  tetrahedra;  of  air, 
octahedra ;  and  of  water,  icosahedra.  (I  shall  come  to  the  dode- 
cahedron presently.) 

The  theory  of  the  regular  solids,  which  is  set  forth  in  the 
thirteenth  book  of  Euclid,  was,  in  Plato's  day,  a  recent  discovery; 
it  was  completed  by  Theaetetus,  who  appears  as  a  very  young 
man  in  the  dialogue  that  bears  his  name.  It  was,  according  to 
tradition,  he  who  first  proved  that  there  are  only  five  kinds  of 
regular  solids,  and  discovered  the  octahedron  and  the  icosahedron.1 
The  regular  tetrahedron,  octahedron,  and  icosahedron,  have 
equilateral  triangles  for  their  faces;  the  dodecahedron  has  regular 
pentagons,  and  cannot  therefore  be  constructed  out  of  Plato's  two 
triangles.  For  this  reason  he  does  not  use  it  in  connection  with  the 
four  elements. 

As  for  the  dodecahedron,  Plato  says  only  "there  was  yet  a  fifth 
combination  which  God  used  in  the  delineation  of  the  universe." 
This  is  obscure,  and  suggests  that  the  universe  is  a  dodecahedron; 
but  elsewhere  it  is  said  to  be  a  sphere.1  The  pentagram  has  always 
been  prominent  in  magic,  and  apparently  owes  this  position  to  the 
Pythagoreans,  who  called  it  '"Health"  and  used  it  as  a  symbol  of 
recognition  of  members  of  the  brotherhood.8  It  seems  that  it  owed 
its  properties  to  the  fact  that  the  dodecahedron  has  pentagons  for 
its  faces,  and  is,  in  some  sense,  a  symbol  of  the  universe.  This 
topic  is  attractive,  but  it  is  difficult  to  ascertain  much  that  is 
definite  about  it. 

After  a  discussion  of  sensation,  Timaeus  proceeds  to  explain 
the  two  souls  in  man,  one  immortal,  the  other  mortal,  one  created 
by  God,  the  other  by  the  gods.  The  mortal  soul  is  "subject  to 
terrible  and  irresistible  affections — first  of  all,  pleasure,  the 
greatest  incitement  to  evil;  then  pain,  which  deters  from  good; 
also  rashness  and  fear,  two  foolish  counsellors,  anger  hard  to  be 
appeased,  and  hope  easily  led  astray;  these  they  (the  gods)  mingled 

1  Sec  Heath,  Greek  Mathcmalic*,  Vol.  1,  pp.  159,  162,  294-296. 
1  For  a  reconciliation  of  the  two  statements,  see  Cornford,  op.  «/., 
p.  219. 
9  Heath,  of.  ri/.,  p.  161. 

169 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

with  irrational  sense  and  with  all-daring  love  according  to 
necessary  laws,  and  so  framed  men." 

The  immortal  soul  is  in  the  head,  the  mortal  in  the  breast. 

There  is  some  curious  physiology,  as,  that  the  purpose  of  the 
intestines  is  to  prevent  gluttony  by  keeping  the  food  in,  and  then 
there  is  another  account  of  transmigration.  Cowardly  or  un- 
righteous men  will,  in  the  next  life,  be  women.  Innocent  light- 
minded  men,  who  think  that  astronomy  can  be  learnt  by  looking 
at  the  stars  without  knowledge  of  mathematics,  will  become  birds ; 
those  who  have  no  philosophy  will  become  wild  land-animals; 
the  very  stupidest  will  become  fishes. 

The  last  paragraph  of  the  dialogue  sums  it  up : 

We  may  now  say  that  our  discourse  about  the  nature  of  the 
universe  has  an  end.  The  world  has  received  animals,  mortal  and 
immortal,  and  is  fulfilled  with  them,  and  has  become  a  visible 
animal  containing  the  visible — the  sensible  God  who  is  the  image 
of  the  intellectual,  the  greatest,  best,  fairest,  most  perfect-  the 
one  only-begotten  heaven. 

It  is  difficult  to  know  what  to  take  seriously  in  the  Tiwacus, 
and  what  to  regard  as  play  of  fancy.  I  think  the  account  of  the 
creation  as  bringing  order  out  of  chaos  is  to  be  taken  quite 
seriously;  so  also  is  the  proportion  between  the  four  elements,  and 
their  relation  to  the  regular  solids  and  their  constituent  triangles. 
The  accounts  of  time  and  space  are  obviously  what  Plato  believes, 
and  so  is  the  view  of  the  created  world  as  a  copy  of  an  eternal 
archetype.  The  mixture  of  necessity  and  purpose  in  the  world  is 
a  belief  common  to  practically  all  Greeks,  long  antedating  the  rise 
of  philosophy;  Plato  accepted  it,  and  thus  avoided  the  problem 
of  evil,  which  troubles  Christian  theology.  I  think  his  world- 
animal  is  seriously  meant.  But  the  details  about  transmigration, 
and  the  pan  attributed  to  the  gods,  and  other  inessentials,  are,  I 
think,  only  put  in  to  give  a  possible  concreteness. 

The  whole  dialogue,  as  I  said  before,  deserves  to  he  studied 
because  of  its  great  influence  on  ancient  and  medieval  thought; 
and  this  influence  is  not  confined  to  what  is  least  fantastic. 


170 


Chapter  XVIII 
KNOWLEDGE   AND   PERCEPTION    IN   PLATO 

MOST  modern  men  take  it  for  granted  that  empirical  know- 
ledge is  dependent  upon,  or  derived  from,  perception. 
There  is  however  in  Plato  and  among  philosophers  of 
certain  other  schools  a  very  different  doctrine,  to  the  effect  that 
there  is  nothing  worthy  to  be  called  "knowledge"  to  be  derived 
from  the  senses,  and  that  the  only  real  knowledge  has  to  do  with 
concepts.  In  this  view,  "2  +  2  =  4"  is  genuine  knowledge,  but 
such  a  statement  as  "snow  is  white"  is  so  full  of  ambiguity  and 
uncertainty  that  it  cannot  find  a  place  in  the  philosopher's  corpus 
of  truths. 

This  view  is  perhaps  traceable  to  Panne nides,  but  in  its  explicit 
form  the  philosophic  world  owes  it  to  Plato.  I  propose,  in  this 
chapter,  to  deal  with  Plato's  criticism  of  the  view  that  know- 
ledge is  the  same  thing  as  perception,  which  occupies  the  first 
half  of  the  Theaetetus. 

This  dialogue  is  concerned  to  find  a  definition  of  "knowledge," 
but  ends  without  arriving  at  any  but  a  negative  conclusion; 
several  definitions  are  proposed  and  rejected,  but  no  definition 
that  is  considered  satisfactory  is  suggested. 

The  first  of  the  suggested  definitions,  and  the  only  one  that  I 
shall  consider,  is  set  forth  by  Theaetetus  in  the  words: 

"It  seems  to  me  that  one  who  knows  something  is  perceiving 
the  thing  that  he  knows,  and,  so  far  as  I  can  see  at  present, 
knowledge  is  nothing  but  perception." 

Socrates  identifies  this  doctrine  with  that  of  Protagoras,  that 
"man  is  the  measure  of  all  thini;sv"  i.e.*that  any  given  thing  "is 
to  me  such  as  it  appears  to  me,  and  is  to  you  such  as  it  appears 
10  you."  Socrates  adds:  "Perception,  then,  is  always  something 
that  w,  and,  as  being  knowledge,  it  is  infallible." 

A  large  part  of  the  argument  that  follows  is  concerned  with  the 
characterization  of  perception;  when  once  this  is  completed,  it 
does  not  take  long  to  prove  that  such  a  thing  as  perception  has 
turned  out  to  be  cannot  be  knowledge. 

Socrates  adds  to*  the  doctrine  of  Protagoras  the  doctrine  of 
Heraclitus,  jhat  everything  is  always  changing,  i.e.  that  "all  the 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

things  we  are  pleased  to  say  'are'  really  are  in  process  of  becoming. " 
Plato  believes  this  to  be  true  of  objects  of  sense,  but  not  of  the 
objects  of  real  knowledge.  Throughout  the  dialogue,  however, 
his  positive  doctrines  remain  in  the  background. 

From  the  doctrine  of  Heraclitus,  even  if  it  be  only  applicable 
to  objects  of  sense,  together  with  the  definition  of  knowledge  as 
perception,  it  follows  that  knowledge  is  of  what  becomes,  not  of 
what  is. 

There  are,  at  this  point,  some  puzzles  of  a  very  elementary 
character.  We  are  told  that,  since  6  is  greater  than  4  but  less  than 
12,  6  is  both  great  and  small,  which  is  a  contradiction.  Again, 
Socrates  is  now  taller  than  Theaetetus,  who  is  a  youth  not  yet 
full  grown;  but  in  a  few  years  Socrates  will  be  shorter  than 
Theaetetus.  Therefore  Socrates  is  both  tall  and  short.  The  idea 
of  a  relational  proposition  seems  to  have  puzzled  Plato,  as  it  did 
most  of  the  great  philosophers  down  to  Hegel  (inclusive).  These 
puzzles,  however,  are  not  very  germane  to  the  argument,  and 
may  be  ignored. 

Returning  to  perception,  it  is  regarded  as  due  to  an  interaction 
between  the  object  and  the  sense-organ,  both  of  which,  according 
to  the  doctrine  of  Heraclitus,  are  always  changing,  and  both  of 
which,  in  changing,  change  the  percept.  Socrates  remarks  that 
when  he  is  well  he  finds  wine  sweet,  but  when  ill,  sour.  Here  it 
is  a  change  in  the  percipient  that  causes  the  change  in  the  percept. 

Certain  objections  to  the  doctrine  of  Protagoras  arc  advanced, 
and  some  of  these  are  subsequently  withdrawn.  It  is  urged  that 
Protagoras  ought  equally  to  have  admitted  pigs  and  baboons  as 
measures  of  all  things,  since  they  also  are  percipients.  Questions 
are  raised  as  to  the  validity  of  perception  in  dreams  and  in  madness. 
It  is  suggested  that,  if  Protagoras  is  right,  one  man  knows  no 
more  than  another:  not  only  is  Protagoras  as  wise  as  the  gods, 
but,  what  is  more  serious,  he  is  no  wiser  than  a  fool.  Further,  if 
one  man's  judgments  are  as  correct  as  another's,  the  people  who 
judge  that  Protagoras  is  mistaken  have  the  same  reason  to  be 
thought  right  as  he  has. 

Socrates  undertakes  to  find  an  answer  to  many  of  these  objec- 
tions, putting  himself,  for  the  moment,  in  the  place  of  Protagoras. 
As  for  dreams,  the  percepu  are  true  as  percept*.  As  for  the  argu- 
ment about  pigs  and  baboons,  this  is  dismissed  as  vulgar  abuse. 
As  for  the  argument  that,  if  each  man  U  the  measure  pf  all  things, 

172 


KNOWLEDGE   AND    PERCEPTION    IN   PLATO 

one  man  is  as  wise  as  another,  Socrates  suggests,  on  behalf  of 
Protagoras,  a  very  interesting  answer,  namely  that,  while  one 
judgment  cannot  be  truer  than  another,  it  can  be  better,  in  the 
sense  of  having  better  consequences.  This  suggests  pragmatism.1 

This  answer,  however,  though  Socrates  has  invented  it,  does 
not  satisfy  him.  He  urges,  for  example,  that  when  a  doctor  fore- 
tells the  course  of  my  illness,  he  actually  knows  more  of  my  future 
than  I  do.  And  when  men  differ  as  to  what  it  is  wise  for  the  State 
to  decree,  the  issue  shows  that  some  men  had  a  greater  knowledge 
as  to  the  future  than  others  had.  Thus  we  cannot  escape  the 
conclusion  that  a  wise  man  is  a  better  measure  of  things  than  a  fool. 

All  these  are  objections  to  the  doctrine  that  each  man  is  the 
measure  of  all  things,  and  only  indirectly  to  the  doctrine  that 
"knowledge"  means  "perception,"  in  so  far  as  this  doctrine  leads 
to  the  other.  There  is,  however,  a  direct  argument,  namely  that 
memory  must  be  allowed  as  well  as  perception.  This  is  admitted, 
and  to  this  extent  the  proposed  definition  is  amended. 

We  come  next  to  criticisms  of  the  doctrine  of  Heraclitus.  This 
is  first  pushed  to  extremes,  in  accordance,  we  are  told,  with  the 
practice  of  his  disciples  among  the  bright  youths  of  Ephesus.  A 
thing  may  change  in  two  ways,  by  locomotion,  and  by  a  change  of 
quality,  and  the  doctrine  of  flux  is  held  to  state  that  everything 
is  always  changing  in  both  respects.2  And  not  only  is  everything 
always  undergoing  some  qualitative  change,  but  everything  is 
always  changing  all  its  qualities — so,  we  are  told,  clever  people 
think  at  Ephesus.  This  has  awkward  consequences.  We  cannot 
say  "this  is  white,"  for  if  it  was  white  when  we  began  speaking  it 
will  have  ceased  to  be  white  before  we  end  our  sentence.  We 
cannot  be  right  in  saying  we  are  seeing  a  thing,  for  seeing  is 
perpetually  changing  into  not-seeing.*  If  everything  is  changing 

1  It  was  presumably  thit  passage  that  first  suggested  to  F.  C.  S.  Schiller 
his  admiration  of  Protagoras. 

1  It  seems  that  neither  Plato  nor  the  dynamic  youths  of  Ephesus  had 
noticed  that  locomotion  is  impossible  on  the  extreme  Heraclitean  doctrine. 
Motion  demands  that  a  given  thing  A  should  be  now  here,  now  there :  it 
must  remain  the  tame  thing  while  it  moves.  In  the  doctrine  that  Plato 
examines  there  is  change  of  quality  and  change  of  place,  but  not  change 
of  substance.  In  this  respect,  modern  quantum  physics  goes  further  than 
the  most  extreme  di^iples  of  Heraclitus  went  in  Plato's  time.  Plato  \\ould 
have  thought  this  fatal  to  science,  but  it  has  not  proved  so. 

*  Compaq*  the  advertisement:  "That's  Shell,  that  was.9 

173 


WESTERN   PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

in  every  kind  of  way,  seeing  has  no  right  to  be  called  seeing  rather 
than  not-seeing,  or  perception  to  be  called  perception  rather  than 
not-perception.  And  when  we  say  "perception  is  knowledge,"  we 
might  just  as  well  say  "perception  is  not-knowledge." 

What  the  above  argument  amounts  to  is  that,  whatever  else 
may  be  in  perpetual  flux,  the  meanings  of  words  must  be  fixed, 
at  least  for  a  time,  since  otherwise  no  assertion  is  definite,  and  no 
assertion  is  true  rather  than  false.  There  must  be  something  more 
or  less  constant,  if  discourse  and  knowledge  are  to  be  possible. 
This,  I  think,  should  be  admitted.  But  a  great  deal  of  flux  is 
compatible  with  this  admission. 

There  is,  at  this  point,  a  refusal  to  discuss  Parmenides,  on  the 
ground  that  he  is  too  great  and  grand.  He  is  a  "reverend  and 
awfiil  figure."  "There  was  a  sort  of  depth  in  him  that  was  alto- 
gether noble."  He  is  "one  being  whom  I  respect  above  all."  In 
these  remarks  Plato  shows  his  love  for  a  static  universe,  and  his 
dislike  of  the  Heraclitean  flux  which  he  has  been  admitting  for 
the  sake  of  argument.  But  after  this  expression  of  reverence  he 
abstains  from  developing  the  Parmenidean  alternative  to  I  leraclitus. 
We  now  reach  Plato's  final  argument  against  the  identification 
of  knowledge  with  perception.  He  begins  by  pointing  out  that  we 
perceive  through  eyes  and  ears,  rather  than  with  them,  and  he  goes 
on  to  point  out  that  some  of  our  knowledge  is  not  connected  with 
any  sense-organ.  We  can  know,  for  instance,  that  sounds  and 
colours  are  unlike,  though  no  organ  of  sense  can  perceive  both. 
There  is  no  special  organ  for  "existence  and  non-existence,  like- 
ness and  unlikeness,  sameness  and  differences,  and  also  unity  and 
numbers  in  general."  The  same  applies  to  honourable  and  dis- 
honourable, and  good  and  bad.  "The  mind  contemplates  some 
things  through  its  own  instrumentality,  others  through  the  bodily 
faculties."  We  perceive  hard  and  soft  through  touch,  but  it  is  the 
mind  that  judges  that  they  exist  and  that  they  are  contraries.  Only 
the  mind  can  reach  existence,  and  we  cannot  reach  truth  if  we  do 
not  reach  existence.  It  follows  that  we  cannot  know  things  through 
the  senses  alone,  since  through  the  senses  alone  we  cannot  know 
that  things  exist.  Therefore  knowledge  consists  in  reflection,  not 
in  impressions,  and  perception  is  not  knowledge,  because  it  "has 
no  part  in  apprehending  truth,  since  it  has  none  in  apprehending 
existence."  • 

7*o  disentangle  what  can  be  accepted  from  what  must  be  rejected 

*74 


KNOWLEDGE   AND   PERCEPTION    IN   PLATO 

in  this  argument  against  the  identification  of  knowledge  with 
perception  is  by  no  means  easy.  There  are  three  inter-connected 
theses  that  Plato  discusses,  namely: 

(1)  Knowledge  is  perception; 

(2)  Man  is  the  measure  of  all  things; 

(3)  Everything  is  in  a  state  of  flux. 

(i)  The  first  of  these,  with  which  alone  the  argument  is  pri- 
marily concerned,  is  hardly  discussed  on  its  own  account  except 
in  the  final  passage  with  which  we  have  just  been  concerned. 
Here  it  is  argued  that  comparison,  knowledge  of  existence,  and 
understanding  of  number,  are  essential  to  knowledge,  but  cannot 
be  included  in  perception  since  they  are  not  effected  through 
any  sense-organ.  The  things  to  be  said  about  these  are  different. 
Let  us  begin  with  likeness  and  unlikeness. 

That  two  shades  of  colour,  both  of  which  I  am  seeing,  are 
similar  or  dissimilar  as  the  case  may  be,  is  something  which  I, 
for  my  part,  should  accept,  not  indeed  as  a  "percept,"  but  as  a 
"judgment  of  perception.11  A  percept,  I  should  say,  is  not  know- 
ledge, but  merely  something  that  happens,  and  that  belongs 
equally  to  the  world  of  physics  and  to  the  world  of  psychology. 
We  naturally  think  of  perception,  as  Plato  does,  as  a  relation 
between  a  percipient  and  an  object:  we  say  "I  see  a  table."  But 
here  "I"  and  "table"  are  logical  constructions.  The  core  of  crude 
occurrence  is  merely  certain  patches  of  colour.  These  are  asso- 
ciated with  images  of  touch,  they  may  cause  words,  and  they  may 
become  a  source  of  memories.  The  percept  as  filled  out  with 
images  of  touch  becomes  an  "object,"  which  is  supposed  physical; 
the  percept  as  filled  out  with  words  and  memories  becomes  a 
"perception,"  which  is  part  of  a  "subject"  and  is  considered 
mental.  The  percept  is  just  an  occurrence,  and  neither  true  nor 
false;  the  percept  as  filled  out  with  words  is  a  judgment,  and 
capable  of  truth  or  falsehood.  This  judgment  I  call  a  "judgment 
of  perception."  The  proposition  "knowledge  is  perception"  must 
be  interpreted  as  meaning  "knowledge  is  judgments  of  perception." 
It  is  only  in  this  form  that  it  is  grammatically  capable  of  being 
correct. 

To  return  to  likeness  and  unlikeness,  it  is  quite  possible,  when 
I  perceive  two  colours  simultaneously,  for  their  likeness  or  unlike- 
ness to  be  part  of  the  datum,  and  to  be  asserted  in  a  judgment  of 

175 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

perception.  Plato's  argument  that  we  have  no  sense-organ  for 
perceiving  likeness  and  unlikeness  ignores  the  cortex,  and  assumes 
that  all  sense-organs  must  be  at  the  surface  of  the  body. 

The  argument  for  including  likeness  and  unlikeness  as  possible 
perceptive  data  is  as  follows.  Let  us  assume  that  we  see  two  shades 
of  colour  A  and  B,  and  that  we  judge  "A  is  like  B."  Let  us  assume 
further,  as  Plato  does,  that  such  a  judgment  is  in  general  correct, 
and,  in  particular,  is  correct  in  the  case  we  are  considering.  There 
is,  then,  a  relation  of  likeness  between  A  and  B,  and  not  merely 
a  judgment  on  our  part  asserting  likeness.  If  there  were  only  our 
judgment,  it  would  be  an  arbitrary  judgment,  incapable  of  truth 
or  falsehood.  Since  it  obviously  is  capable  of  truth  or  falsehood, 
the  likeness  can  subsist  between  A  and  B,  and  cannot  be  merely 
something  "mental."  The  judgment  "A  is  like  B"  is  true  (if  it  is 
true)  in  virtue  of  a  "fact,"  just  as  much  as  the  judgment  "A  is 
red"  or  "A  is  round."  The  mind  is  no  wore  involved  in  the  per- 
ception of  likeness  than  in  the  perception  of  colour. 

I  come  now  to  existence^  on  which  Plato  lays  great  stress.  We 
have,  he  says,  as  regards  sound  and  colour,  a  thought  which 
includes  both  at  once,  namely  that  they  exist.  Existence  belongs 
to  everything,  and  is  among  the  things  that  the  mind  apprehends 
by  itself;  without  reaching  existence,  it  is  impossible  to  reach 
truth. 

The  argument  against  Plato  here  is  quite  different  from  that 
in  the  case  of  likeness  and  unlikeness.  The  argument  here  is  that 
all  that  Plato  says  about  existence  is  bad  grammar,  or  rather  bad 
syntax.  This  point  is  important,  not  only  in  connection  with 
Plato,  but  also  with  other  matters  such  as  the  ontological  argument 
for  the  existence  of  the  Deity. 

Suppose  you  say  to  a  child  "lions  exist,  but  unicorns  don't," 
you  can  prove  your  point  so  far  as  lions  are  concerned  by  taking 
him  to  the  Zoo  and  saying  "look,  that's  a  lion."  You  will  not, 
unless  you  are  a  philosopher,  add:  "And  you  can  sec  that  that 
exists."  If,  being  a  philosopher,  you  do  add  this,  you  are  uttering 
nonsense.  To  say  "lions  exist"  means  "there  are  lions,"  i.e.  "  'x 
is  a  lion'  is  true  for  a  suitable  #."  But  we  cannot  say  of  the  suitable 
x  that  it  "exists";  we  can  only  apply  this  verb  to  a  description, 
complete  or  incomplete.  "Lion"  is  an  incomplete  description, 
because  it  applies  to  many  objects:  "The  largbst  lion  in  the  Zoo" 
is  complete,  because  it  applies  to  only  one  object. 

176 


KNOWLEDGE   AND   PERCEPTION    IN   PLATO 

Now  suppose  that  I  am  looking  at  a  bright  red  patch.  I  may 
say  "this  is  my  present  percept";  I  may  also  say  "my  present 
percept  exists";  but  I  must  not  say  "this  exists/'  because  the 
word  "exists"  is  only  significant  when  applied  to  a  description 
as  opposed  to  a  name.1  This  disposes  of  existence  as  one  of  the 
things  that  the  mind  is  aware  of  in  objects. 

I  come  now  to  understanding  of  numbers.  Here  there  are  two 
very  different  things  to  be  considered :  on  the  one  hand,  the  pro- 
positions of  arithmetic,  and  on  the  other  hand,  empirical  pro- 
positions of  enumeration.  "2  +  2  =  4"  is  of  the  former  kind;  "I 
have  ten  fingers"  is  of  the  latter. 

I  should  agree  with  Plato  that  arithmetic,  and  pure  mathematics 
generally,  is  not  derived  from  perception.  Pure  mathematics  con- 
sists of  tautologies,  analogous  to  "men  are  men,"  but  usually 
more  complicated.  To  know  that  a  mathematical  proposition  is 
correct,  we  do  not  have  to  study  the  world,  but  only  the  meanings 
of  the  symbols ;  and  the  symbols,  when  we  dispense  with  definitions 
(of  which  the  purpose  is  merely  abbreviation),  are  found  to  be 
such  words  as  "or"  and  "not,"  and  "all"  and  "some,"  which  do 
not,  like  "Socrates,"  denote  anything  in  the  actual  world.  A 
mathematical  equation  asserts  that  two  groups  of  symbols  have 
the  same  meaning;  and  so  long  as  we  confine  ourselves  to  pure 
mathematics,  this  meaning  must  be  one  that  can  be  understood 
without  knowing  anything  about  what  can  be  perceived.  Mathe- 
matical truth,  therefore,  is,  as  Plato  contends,  independent  of 
perception ;  but  it  is  truth  of  a  very  peculiar  sort,  and  is  concerned 
only  with  symbols. 

Propositions  of  enumeration,  such  as  "I  have  ten  fingers,"  are 
in  quite  a  different  category,  and  are  obviously,  at  least  in  part, 
dependent  on  perception.  Clearly  the  concept  "finger"  is  abstracted 
from  perception;  but  how  about  the  concept  "ten"?  Here  we 
may  seem  to  have  arrived  at  a  true  universal  or  Platonic  idea.  We 
cannot  say  that  "ten"  is  abstracted  from  perception,  for  any 
percept  which  can  be  viewed  as  ten  of  some  kind  of  thing  can 
equally  well  be  viewed  otherwise.  Suppose  I  give  the  name 
"digitary"  to  all  the  fingers  of  one  hand  taken  together;  then  I 
can  say  "I  have  two  digitaries,"  and  this  describes  the  same  fact 
of  perception  as  I  formerly  described  by  the  help  of  the  number 
ten.  Thus  in  the  statement  "I  have  ten  fingers"  perception  plays 
1  On  this  subject  see  the  last  chapter  of  the  present  work. 

177 


WESTERN   PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

a  smaller  part,  and  conception  a  larger  part,  than  in  such  a 
statement  as  "this  is  red."  The  matter,  however,  is  only  one  of 
degree. 

The  complete  answer,  as  regards  propositions  in  which  the 
word  "ten"  occurs,  is  that,  when  these  propositions  are  correctly 
analysed,  they  are  found  to  contain  no  constituent  corresponding 
to  the  word  "ten."  To  explain  this  in  the  case  of  such  a  large 
number  as  ten  would  be  complicated ;  let  us,  therefore,  substitute 
"I  have  two  hands."  This  means: 

"There  is  an  a  such  that  there  is  a  b  such  that  a  and  b  are  not 
identical  and  whatever  x  may  be,  lx  is  a  hand  of  mine*  is  true 
when,  and  only  when,  x  is  a  or  x  is  6." 

Here  the  word  "two"  does  not  occur.  It  is  true  that  two  letters 
a  and  b  occur,  but  we  do  not  need  to  know  that  they  are  two,  any 
more  than  we  need  to  know  that  they  are  black,  or  white,  or 
whatever  colour  they  may  happen  to  be. 

Thus  numbers  are,  in  a  certain  precise  sense,  formal.  The  facts 
which  verify  various  propositions  asserting  that  various  collections 
each  have  two  members,  have  in  common,  not  a  constituent,  but 
a  form.  In  this  they  differ  from  propositions  about  the  Statue  of 
Liberty,  or  the  moon,  or  George  Washington.  Such  propositions 
refer  to  a  particular  portion  of  space-time;  it  is  this  that  is  in 
common  between  all  the  statements  that  can  be  made  about  the 
Statue  of  Liberty.  But  there  is  nothing  in  common  among  pro- 
positions "there  are  two  so-and-so's"  except  a  common  form. 
The  relation  of  the  symbol  "two"  to  the  meaning  of  a  proposition 
in  which  it  occurs  is  far  more  complicated  than  the  relation  of  the 
symbol  "red"  to  the  meaning  of  a  proposition  in  which  it  occurs. 
We  may  say,  in  a  certain  sense,  that  the  symbol  "two"  means 
nothing,  for,  when  it  occurs  in  a  true  statement,  there  is  no 
corresponding  constituent  in  the  meaning  of  the  statement.  We 
may  continue,  if  we  like,  to  say  that  numbers  are  eternal,  im- 
mutable, and  so  on,  but  we  must  add  that  they  are  logical  fictions. 

There  is  a  further  point.  Concerning  sound  and  colour,  Plato 
says  "both  together  are  two,  and  each  of  them  is  erne."  We  have 
considered  the  two\  now  we  must  consider  the  one.  There  is  here 
a  mistake  very  analogous  to  that  concerning  existence.  The  pre- 
dicate "one"  is  not  applicable  to  things,  but  only  to  unit  classes. 
We  can  say  "the  earth  has  one  satellite,"  bdt  it  is  a  syntactical 
error  to  say  "the  moon  is  one."  For  what  can  such  an  assertion 


KNOWLEDGE   AND   PERCEPTION    IN   PLATO 

mean  ?  You  may  just  as  well  say  "the  moon  is  many/'  since  it 
has  many  parts.  To  say  "the  earth  has  one  satellite*'  is  to  give  a 
property  of  the  concept  "earth's  satellite,"  namely  the  following 
property: 

"There  is  a  c  such  that  '*  is  a  satellite  of  the  earth'  is  true  when, 
and  only  when,  x  is  £." 

This  is  an  astronomical  truth;  but  if,  for  "a  satellite  of  the 
earth/'  you  substitute  "the  moon"  or  any  other  proper  name,  the 
result  is  either  meaningless  or  a  mere  tautology.  "One,"  therefore, 
is  a  property  of  certain  concepts,  just  as  "ten"  is  a  property  of  the 
concept  "my  finger."  But  to  argue  "the  earth  has  one  satellite, 
namely  the  moon,  therefore  the  moon  is  one"  is  as  bad  as  to 
argue  "The  Apostles  were  twelve;  Peter  was  an  apostle;  therefore 
Peter  was  twelve/1  which  would  be  valid  if  for  "twelve"  we 
substituted  "white." 

The  above  considerations  have  shown  that,  while  there  is  a 
formal  kind  of  knowledge,  namely  logic  and  mathematics,  which 
is  not  derived  from  perception,  Plato's  arguments  as  regards  all 
other  knowledge  are  fallacious.  This  does  not,  of  course,  prove 
that  his  conclusion  is  false;  it  proves  only  that  he  has  given  no 
valid  reason  for  supposing  it  true. 

(2)  I  come  now  to  the  position  of  Protagoras,  that  man  is  the 
measure  of  all  things,  or,  as  it  is  interpreted,  that  each  man  is  the 
measure  of  all  things.  Mere  it  is  essential  to  decide  the  level  upon 
which  the  discussion  is  to  proceed.  It  is  obvious  that,  to  begin 
with,  we  must  distinguish  between  percepts  and  inferences.  Among 
percepts,  each  man  is  inevitably  confined  to  his  own;  what  he 
knows  of  the  percepts  of  others  he  knows  by  inference  from  his 
own  percepts  in  hearing  and  reading.  The  percepts  of  dreamers 
and  madmen,  as  percepts,  arc  just  as  good  as  those  of  others;  the 
only  objection  to  them  is  that,  as  their  context  is  unusual,  they 
are  apt  to  give  rise  to  fallacious  inferences. 

But  how  about  inferences?  Are  they  equally  personal  and 
private?  In  a  sense,  we  must  admit  that  they  are.  What  I  am  to 
believe,  1  must  believe  because  of  some  reason  that  appeals  to 
me.  It  is  true  that  my  reason  may  be  some  one  else's  assertion, 
but  that  may  be  a  perfectly  adequate  reason — for  instance,  if  I  am 
a  judge  listening  to  evidence.  And  however  Protagorean  I  may 
be,  it  is  reasonable  to  accept  the  opinion  of  an  accountant  about 
a  set  of  figures  in  preference  to  my  own,  for  1  may  have  repeatedly 

'79 


WESTERN   PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

found  that  if,  at  first,  I  disagree  with  him,  a  little  more  care  shows 
me  that  he  was  right.  In  this  sense  I  may  admit  that  another  man 
is  wiser  than  I  am.  The  Protagorean  position,  rightly  interpreted, 
does  not  involve  the  view  that  I  never  make  mistakes,  but  only 
that  the  evidence  of  my  mistakes  must  appear  to  me.  My  past  self 
can  be  judged  just  as  another  person  can  be  judged.  But  all  this 
presupposes  that,  as  regards  inferences  as  opposed  to  percepts, 
there  is  some  impersonal  standard  of  correctness.  If  any  inference 
that  I  happen  to  draw  is  just  as  good  as  any  other,  then  the  in- 
tellectual anarchy  that  Plato  deduces  from  Protagoras  does  in 
fact  follow.  On  this  point,  therefore,  which  is  an  important  one, 
Plato  seems  to  be  in  the  right.  But  the  empiricist  would  say  that 
perceptions  are  the  test  of  correctness  in  inference  in  empirical 
material. 

(3)  The  doctrine  of  universal  flux  is  caricatured  by  Plato,  and 
it  is  difficult  to  suppose  that  any  one  ever  held  it  in  the  extreme 
form  that  he  gives  to  it.  Let  us  suppose,  for  example,  that  the 
colours  we  see  are  continually  changing.  Such  a  word  as  "red" 
applies  to  many  shades  of  colour,  and  if  we  say  "I  see  red,"  there 
is  no  reason  why  this  should  not  remain  true  throughout  the  time 
that  it  takes  to  say  it.  Plato  gets  his  results  by  applying  to  pro- 
cesses of  continuous  change  such  logical  oppositions  as  perceiving 
and  not-perceiving,  knowing  and  not-knowing.  Such  oppositions, 
however,  are  not  suitable  for  describing  such  processes.  Suppose, 
on  a  foggy  day,  you  watch  a  man  walking  away  from  you  along  a 
road:  he  grows  dimmer  and  dimmer,  and  there  comes  a  moment 
when  you  are  sure  that  you  no  longer  see  him,  but  there  is  an 
intermediate  period  of  doubt.  Logical  oppositions  have  been 
invented  for  our  convenience,  but  continuous  change  requires  a 
quantitative  apparatus,  the  possibility  of  which  Plato  ignores. 
What  he  says  on  this  subject,  therefore,  is  largely  beside  the  mark. 

At  the  same  time,  it  must  be  admitted  that,  unless  words,  to 
some  extent,  had  fixed  meanings,  discourse  would  be  impossible. 
Here  again,  however,  it  is  easy  to  be  too  absolute.  Words  do  change 
their  meanings;  take,  for  example,  the  word  "idea,"  It  i*  only 
by  a  considerable  process  of  education  that  we  learn  to  give  to 
this  word  something  like  the  meaning  which  Plato  gave  to  it.  It 
is  necessary  that  the  changes  in  the  meanings  of  words  should  he 
slower  than  the  changes  that  the  words  d&cribe;  but  it  is  not 
necessary  that  there  should  be  no  changes  in  the  meanings  of 

180 


KNOWLEDGE   AND    PERCEPTION    IN    PLATO 

words.  Perhaps  this  does  not  apply  to  the  abstract  words  of  logic 
and  mathematics,  but  these  words,  as  we  have  seen,  apply  only 
to  the  form,  not  to  the  matter,  of  propositions.  Here,  again,  we 
find  that  logic  and  mathematics  are  peculiar.  Plato,  under  the 
influence  of  the  Pythagoreans,  assimilated  other  knowledge  too 
much  to  mathematics.  He  shared  this  mistake  with  many  of  the 
greatest  philosophers,  but  it  was  a  mistake  none  the  less. 


181 


Chapter  XIX 
ARISTOTLE'S   METAPHYSICS 

IN  reading  any  important  philosopher,  but  most  of  all  in  reading 
Aristotle,  it  is  necessary  to  study  him  in  two  ways:  with  refer- 
ence to  his  predecessors,  and  with  reference  to  his  successors. 
In  the  former  aspect,  Aristotle's  merits  are  enormous ;  in  the  latter, 
his  demerits  are  equally  enormous.  For  his  demerits,  however,  his 
successors  are  more  responsible  than  he  is.  He  came  at  the  end  of 
the  creative  period  in  Greek  thought,  and  after  his  death  it  was 
two  thousand  years  before  the  world  produced  any  philosopher 
who  could  be  regarded  as  approximately  his  equal.  Towards  the 
end  of  this  long  period  his  authority  had  become  almost  as  un- 
questioned as  that  of  the  Church,  and  in  science,  as  well  as  in 
philosophy,  had  become  a  serious  obstacle  to  progress.  Ever  since 
the  beginning  of  the  seventeenth  century,  almost  every  serious 
intellectual  advance  has  had  to  begin  with  an  attack  on  some 
Aristotelian  doctrine;  in  logic,  this  is  still  true  at  the  present  day. 
But  it  would  have  been  at  least  as  disastrous  if  any  of  his  pre- 
decessors (except  perhaps  Democritus)  had  acquired  equal 
authority.  To  do  him  justice,  we  must,  to  bejrin  with,  forget  his 
excessive  posthumous  fame,  and  the  equally  excessive  posthumous 
condemnation  to  which  it  led. 

Aristotle  was  born,  probably  in  384  B.C.,  at  Stagira  in  Thrace. 
His  father  had  inherited  the  position  of  family  physician  to  the 
king  of  Macedonia.  At  about  the  age  of  eighteen  Aristotle  came 
to  Athens  and  became  a  pupil  of  Plato ;  he  remained  in  the  Aca- 
demy for  nearly  twenty  years,  until  the  death  of  Plato  in  348-7  B.C. 
I  le  then  travelled  for  a  time,  and  married  either  the  sister  or  the 
niece  of  a  tyrant  named  Hermias.  (Scandal  said  she  was  the 
daughter  or  concubine  of  Hermias,  but  both  stories  are  disproved 
by  the  fact  that  he  was  a  eunuch.)  In  343  B.C.  he  became  tutor  to 
Alexander,  then  thirteen  years  old,  and  continued  in  that  position 
until,  at  the  age  of  sixteen,  Alexander  was  pronounced  by  his 
father  to  be  of  age,  and  was  appointed  regent  during  Philip's 
absence.  Everything  one  would  wish  to  know  of  the  relations  of 
Aristotle  and  Alexander  is  unascertainable,  the  more  so  as  legends 
were  soon  invented  on  the  subject.  There  are  letters  between  them 

182 


ARISTOTLE'S   METAPHYSICS 

which  are  generally  regarded  as  forgeries.  People  who  admire 
both  men  suppose  that  the  tutor  influenced  the  pupil.  Hegel 
thinks  that  Alexander's  career  shows  the  practical  usefulness  of 
philosophy.  As  to  this,  A.  W.  Benn  says:  "It  would  be  unfortunate 
if  philosophy  had  no  better  testimonial  to  show  for  herself  than 
the  character  of  Alexander.  .  .  .  Arrogant,  drunken,  cruel, 
vindictive,  and  grossly  superstitious,  he  united  the  vices  of  a 
Highland  chieftain  to  the  frenzy  of  an  Oriental  despot."1 

For  my  part,  while  I  agree  with  Benn  about  the  character  of 
Alexander,  I  nevertheless  think  that  his  work  was  enormously 
important  and  enormously  beneficial,  since,  but  for  him,  the  whole 
tradition  of  Hellenic  civilization  might  well  have  perished.  As 
to  Aristotle's  influence  on  him,  we  are  left  free  to  conjecture 
whatever  seems  to  us  most  plausible.  For  my  part,  I  should 
suppose  it  nil.  Alexander  was  an  ambitious  and  passionate  boy, 
on  bad  terms  with  his  father,  and  presumably  impatient  of 
schooling.  Aristotle  thought  no  State  should  have  as  many  as  one 
hundred  thousand  citizens,2  and  preached  the  doctrine  of  the 
golden  mean.  I  cannot  imagine  his  pupil  regarding  him  as  any- 
thing but  a  prosy  old  pedant,  set  over  him  by  his  father  to  keep 
him  out  of  mischief.  Alexander,  it  is  true,  had  a  certain  snobbish 
respect  for  Athenian  civilization,  but  this  was  common  to  his 
whole  dynasty,  who  wished  to  prove  that  they  were  not  barbarians. 
It  was  analogous  to  the  feeline;  of  nineteenth-century  Russian 
aristocrats  for  Paris.  This,  therefore,  was  not  attributable  to 
Aristotle's  influence.  And  I  do  not  see  anything  else  in  Alexander 
that  could  possibly  have  come  from  this  source. 

It  is  more  surprising  that  Alexander  had  so  little  influence  on 
Aristotle,  whose  speculations  on  politics  were  blandly  oblivious 
of  the  fact  that  the  era  of  City  States  had  given  \vay  to  the  era  of 
empires.  I  suspect  that  Aristotle,  to  the  end,  thought  of  him  as 
"that  idle  and  headstrong'  boy,  who  never  could  understand  any- 
thing of  philosophy/*  On  the  whole,  the  contacts  of  these  two 
great  men  seem  to  have  been  as  unfruitful  as  if  they  had  lived  in 
different  worlds. 

From  335  B.C.  to  323  B.C.  (in  which  latter  year  Alexander  died), 
Aristotle  lived  at  Athens.  It  was  during  these  twelve  years  that  he 
founded  his  school  and  wrote  most  of  his  books.  At  the  death  of 
Alexander,  the  Athenians  rebelled,  and  turned  on  his  friends, 

1  Tht  Cree^  Philosophers,  Vol.  I,  p.  285.  *  Ethics,  11708. 

183 


WESTERN   PHILOSOPHICAL  THOUGHT 

including  Aristotle,  who  was  indicted  for  impiety,  but,  unlike 
Socrates,  fled  to  avoid  punishment.  In  the  next  year  (322)  he  died. 

Aristotle,  as  a  philosopher,  is  in  many  ways  very  different  from 
all  his  predecessors.  He  is  the  first  to  write  like  a  professor:  his 
treatises  are  systematic,  his  discussions  are  divided  into  heads, 
he  is  a  professional  teacher,  not  an  inspired  prophet.  His  work  is 
critical,  careful,  pedestrian,  without  any  trace  of  Bacchic  en- 
thusiasm. The  Orphic  elements  in  Plato  are  watered  down  in 
Aristotle,  and  mixed  with  a  strong  dose  of  common  sense;  where 
he  is  Platonic,  one  feels  that  his  natural  temperament  has  been 
overpowered  by  the  teaching  to  which  he  has  been  subjected.  He 
is  not  passionate,  or  in  any  profound  sense  religious.  The  errors 
of  his  predecessors  were  the  glorious  errors  of  youth  attempting 
the  impossible ;  his  errors  are  those  of  age  which  cannot  free  itself 
of  habitual  prejudices.  He  is  best  in  detail  and  in  criticism;  he 
fails  in  large  construction,  for  lack  of  fundamental  clarity  and 
Titanic  fire. 

It  is  difficult  to  decide  at  what  point  to  begin  an  account  of 
Aristotle's  metaphysics,  but  perhaps  the  best  place  is  his  criticism 
of  the  theory  of  ideas  and  his  own  alternative  doctrine  of  uni- 
versals.  He  advances  against  the  theory  of  ideas  a  number  of  very 
good  arguments,  most  of  which  are  already  to  be  found  in  Plato's 
Parmenides.  The  strongest  argument  is  that  of  the  "third  man": 
if  a  man  is  a  man  because  he  resembles  the  ideal  man,  there  must 
be  a  still  more  ideal  man  to  whom  both  ordinary  men  and  the 
ideal  man  are  similar.  Again,  Socrates  is  both  a  man  and  an  animal, 
and  the  question  arises  whether  the  ideal  man  is  an  ideal  animal ; 
if  he  is,  there  must  be  as  many  ideal  animals  as  there  are  species 
of  animals.  It  is  needless  to  pursue  the  matter;  Aristotle  makes  it 
obvious  that,  when  a  number  of  individuals  share  a  predicate, 
this  cannot  be  because  of  relation  to  something  of  the  same  kind 
as  themselves,  but  more  ideal.  This  much  may  be  taken  as  proved, 
but  Aristotle's  own  doctrine  is  far  from  clear.  It  was  this  lack  of 
clarity  that  made  possible  the  medieval  controversy  between 
nominalists  and  realists. 

Aristotle's  metaphysics,  roughly  speaking,  may  be  described  as 
Plato  diluted  by  common  sense,  lie  is  difficult  because  Plato  and 
common  sense  do  not  mix  easily.  When  one  tries  to  understand 
him,  one  thinks  part  of  the  time  that  he  is  expressing  the  ordinary 
views  of  a  person  innocent  of  philosophy  and  the  rest  of  the  time 

184 


ARISTOTLE'S  METAPHYSICS 

that  he  is  setting  forth  Platonism  with  a  new  vocabulary.  It  does 
not  do  to  lay  too  much  stress  on  any  single  passage,  because  there 
is  liable  to  be  a  correction  or  modification  of  it  in  some  later 
passage.  On  the  whole,  the  easiest  way  to  understand  both  his 
theory  of  universals  and  his  theory  of  matter  and  form  is  to  set 
forth  first  the  common-sense  doctrine  which  is  half  of  his  view, 
and  then  to  consider  the  Platonic  modifications  to  which  he 
subjects  it. 

Up  to  a  certain  point,  the  theory  of  universals  is  quite  simple. 
In  language,  there  are  proper  names,  and  there  are  adjectives. 
The  proper  names  apply  to  "things"  or  "persons,"  each  of  which 
is  the  only  thing  or  person  to  which  the  name  in  question  applies. 
The  sun,  the  moon,  France,  Napoleon,  are  unique;  there  are  not 
a  number  of  instances  of  things  to  which  these  names  apply.  On 
the  other  hand,  words  like  "cat,"  "dog,"  "man"  apply  to  many 
different  things.  The  problem  of  universals  is  concerned  with 
the  meanings  of  such  words,  and  also  of  adjectives,  such  as 
"white,"  "hard,"  "round,"  and  so  on.  He  says:1  "By  the  term 
'universal'  I  mean  that  which  is  of  such  a  nature  as  to  be  pre- 
dicated of  many  subjects,  by  'individual'  that  which  is  not  thus 
predicated." 

What  is  signified  by  a  proper  name  is  a  "substance/*  while 
what  is  signified  by  an  adjective  or  class-name,  such  as  "human" 
or  "man,"  is  called  a  "universal."  A  substance  is  a  "this,"  but  a 
universal  is  a  "such" — it  indicates  the  sort  of  thing,  not  the  actual 
particular  thing.  A  universal  is  not  a  substance,  because  it  is  not 
a  "this."  (Plato's  heavenly  bed  would  be  a  "this"  to  those  who 
could  perceive  it ;  this  is  a  matter  as  to  which  Aristotle  disagrees 
with  Plato.)  "It  seems  impossible,"  Aristotle  says,  "that  any  uni- 
versal term  should  be  the  name  of  a  substance.  For  .  .  .  the 
substance  of  each  thing  is  that  which  is  peculiar  to  it,  which  does 
not  belong  to  anything  else;  but  the  universal  is  common,  since 
that  is  called  universal  which  is  sUch  as  to  belong  to  more  than 
one  thing."  The  gist  of  the  matter,  so  far,  is  that  a  universal 
cannot  exist  by  itself,  but  only  in  particular  things. 

Superficially,  Aristotle's  doctrine  is  plain  enough.  Suppose  I 

say  "there  is  such  a  thing  as  the  game  of  football,"  most  people 

would  regard  the  remark  as  a  truism.  But  if  I  were  to  infer  that 

football  could  exist  without  football-players,  I  should  be  rightly 

1  'to  Interpretation,  17*. 

185 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

held  to  be  talking  nonsense.  Similarly,  it  would  be  held,  there  is 
such  a  thing  as  parenthood,  but  only  because  there  are  parents; 
there  is  such  a  thing  as  sweetness,  but  only  because  there  are 
sweet  things;  and  there  is  redness,  but  only  because  there  are 
red  things.  And  this  dependence  is  thought  to  be  not  reciprocal : 
the  men  who  play  football  would  still  exist  even  if  they  never 
played  football;  things  which  are  usually  sweet  may  turn  sour; 
and  my  face,  which  is  usually  red,  may  turn  pale  without  ceasing 
to  be  my  face.  In  this  way  we  are  led  to  conclude  that  what  is 
meant  by  an  adjective  is  dependent  for  its  being  on  what  is  meant 
by  a  proper  name,  but  not  vice  versa.  This  is,  I  think,  what 
Aristotle  means.  His  doctrine  on  this  point,  as  on  many  others, 
is  a  common-sense  prejudice  pedantically  expressed. 

But  it  is  not  easy  to  give  precision  to  the  theory.  Granted  that 
football  could  not  exist  without  football-players,  it  could  perfectly 
well  exist  without  this  or  that  football-player.  And  granted  that  a 
person  can  exist  without  playing  football,  he  nevertheless  cannot 
exist  without  doing  something.  The  quality  redness  cannot  exist 
without  some  subject,  but  it  can  exist  without  this  or  that  subject ; 
similarly  a  subject  cannot  exist  without  some  quality,  but  can 
exist  without  this  or  that  quality.  The  supposed  ground  for  the 
distinction  between  things  and  qualities  thus  seems  to  be  illusory. 

The  true  ground  of  the  distinction  is,  in  fact,  linguistic;  it  is 
derived  from  syntax.  There  are  proper  names,  adjectives,  and 
relation- words ;  we  may  say  "John  is  wise,  James  is  foolish,  John 
is  taller  than  James,"  Here  "John"  and  "James"  are  proper 
names,  "wise"  and  "foolish"  are  adjectives,  and  "taller"  is  a 
relation-word.  Metaphysicians,  ever  since  Aristotle,  have  inter- 
preted these  syntactical  differences  metaphysically:  John  and 
James  are  substances,  wisdom  and  folly  are  universal*.  (Relation- 
words  were  ignored  or  misinterpreted.)  It  may  be  that,  given 
sufficient  care,  metaphysical  differences  can  be  found  that  have 
some  relation  to  these  syntactical  differences,  but,  if  so,  it  will  be 
only  by  means  of  a  long  process,  involving,  incidentally,  the 
creation  of  an  artificial  philosophical  language.  And  this  language 
will  contain  no  such  names  as  "John"  and  "James/*  and  no  such 
adjectives  as  "wise"  and  "foolish";  all  the  words  of  ordinary 
languages  will  have  yielded  to  analysis,  and  been  replaced  by 
words  having  a  less  complex  significance.  Until  this  labour  has 
been  performed,  the  question  of  particulars  and  universals  cannot 

186 


ARISTOTLE'S  METAPHYSICS 

be  adequately  discussed.  And  when  we  reach  the  point  at  which 
we  can  at  last  discuss  it,  we  shall  find  that  the  question  we  are 
discussing  is  quite  different  from  what  we  supposed  it  to  be  at 
the  outset. 

If,  therefore,  I  have  failed  to  make  Aristotle's  theory  of  uni- 
versals  clear,  that  is  (I  maintain)  because  it  is  not  clear.  But  it  is 
certainly  an  advance  on  the  theory  of  ideas,  and  is  certainly  con- 
cerned with  a  genuine  and  very  important  problem. 

There  is  another  term  which  is  important  in  Aristotle  and  in 
his  scholastic  followers,  and  that  is  the  term  "essence."  This  is 
by  no  means  synonymous  with  "universal."  Your  "essence"  is 
"what  you  are  by  your  very  nature."  It  is,  one  may  say,  those  of 
your  properties  which  you  cannot  lose  without  ceasing  to  be  your- 
self. Not  only  an  individual  thing,  but  a  species,  has  an  essence. 
The  definition  of  a  species  should  consist  in  mentioning  its  essence. 
I  shall  return  to  the  conception  of  "essence"  in  connection  with 
Aristotle's  logic.  For  the  present  I  will  merely  observe  that  it 
seems  to  me  a  muddle-headed  notion,  incapable  of  precision. 

The  next  point  in  Aristotle's  metaphysics  is  the  distinction  of 
"form"  and  "matter. f>  (It  must  be  understood  that  "matter,"  in 
the  sense  in  which  it  is  opposed  to  "form,"  is  different  from 
"matter"  as  opposed  to  "mind.") 

Here,  again,  there  is  a  common-sense  basis  for  Aristotle's  theory, 
but  here,  more  than  in  the  case  of  universals,  the  Platonic  modifi- 
cations are  very  important.  We  may  start  with  a  marble  statue; 
here  marble  is  the  matter,  while  the  shape  conferred  by  the 
sculptor  is  the  form.  Or,  to  take  Aristotle's  examples,  if  a  man 
makes  a  bronze  sphere,  bronze  is  the  matter,  and  sphericity  is  the 
form;  while  in  the  case  of  a  calm  sea,  water  is  the  matter  and 
smoothness  is  the  form.  So  far,  all  is  simple. 

He  goes  on  to  say  that  it  is  in  virtue  of  the  form  that  the  matter 
is  some  one  definite  thing,  and  this  is  the  substance  of  the  thing. 
What  Aristotle  means  seems  to  be  plain  common  sense:  a  "thing" 
must  be  bounded,  and  the  boundary  constitutes  its  form.  Take, 
say,  a  volume  of  water:  any  part  of  it  can  be  marked  off  from  the 
rest  by  being  enclosed  in  a  vessel,  and  then  this  part  becomes  a 
*  thing,"  but  so  long  as  the  part  is  in  no  way  marked  out  from  the 
rest  of  the  homogeneous  mass  it  is  not  a  "thing."  A  statue  is  a 
"thing,"  and  the  marble  of  which  it  is  composed  is,  in  a  sense, 
unchanged  from  what  it  was  as  part  of  a  lump  or  as  part  of  the 

,87 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

provided  it  is  so  used  that  we  can  translate  our  statements  into 
a  form  in  which  the  concept  is  absent.  "A  block  of  marble  is  a 
potential  statue"  means  "from  a  block  of  marble,  by  suitable  acts, 
a  statue  is  produced."  But  when  potentiality  is  used  as  a  funda- 
mental and  irreducible  concept,  it  always  conceals  confusion  of 
thought.  Aristotle's  use  of  it  is  one  of  the  bad  points  in  his 
system. 

Aristotle's  theology  is  interesting,  and  closely  connected  with 
the  rest  of  his  metaphysics — indeed,  "theology"  is  one  of  his 
names  for  what  we  call  "metaphysics."  (The  book  which  we  know 
under  that  name  was  not  so  called  by  him.) 

There  are,  he  says,  three  kinds  of  substances:  those  that  are 
sensible  and  perishable,  those  that  are  sensible  but  not  perishable, 
and  those  that  are  neither  sensible  nor  perishable.  The  first  class 
includes  plants  and  animals,  the  second  includes  the  heavenly 
bodies  (which  Aristotle  believed  to  undergo  no  change  except 
motion),  the  third  includes  the  rational  soul  in  man,  and  also 
God. 

The  main  argument  for  God  is  the  First  Cause:  there  must  be 
something  which  originates  motion,  and  this  something  must  itself 
be  unmoved,  and  must  be  eternal,  substance,  and  actuality.  The 
object  of  desire  and  the  object  of  thought,  Aristotle  says,  cause 
movement  in  this  way,  without  themselves  being  in  motion.  So 
God  produces  motion  by  being  loved,  whereas  every  other  cause 
of  motion  works  by  being  itself  in  motion  (like  a  billiard  ball). 
God  is  pure  thought ;  for  thought  is  what  is  best.  "Life  also  belongs 
to  God;  for  the  actuality  of  thought  is  life,  and  God  is  that 
actuality;  and  God's  self-dependent  actuality  is  life  most  good 
and  eternal.  We  say  therefore  that  God  is  a  living  being,  eternal, 
most  good,  so  that  life  and  duration  continuous  and  eternal  belong 
to  God;  for  this  is  God"  (1072*). 

"It  is  clear  then  from  what  has  been  said  that  there  is  a  sub- 
stance which  is  eternal  and  unmovable  and  separate  from  sensible 
things.  It  has  been  shown  that  this  substance  cannot  have  any 
magnitude,  but  is  without  parts  and  indivisible.  .  .  .  But  it  has 
also  been  shown  that  it  is  impassive  and  unalterable;  for  all  the 
other  changes  are  posterior  to  change  of  place"  (1073*). 

God  does  not  have  the  attributes  of  a  Christian  Providence,  for 
it  would  derogate  from  His  perfection  to  think  about  anything 
except  what  is  perfect,  i.e.  Himself  "It  must  be  of  itself  that  the 

190 


ARISTOTLE'S  METAPHYSICS 

divine  thought  thinks  (since  it  is  the  most  excellent  of  things), 
and  its  thinking  is  a  thinking  on  thinking."  (1074*).  We  must  infer 
that  God  does  not  know  of  the  existence  of  our  sublunary  world. 
Aristotle,  like  Spinoza,  holds  that,  while  men  must  love  God, 
it  is  impossible  that  God  should  love  men. 

God  is  not  definable  as  "the  unmoved  mover."  On  the  contrary, 
astronomical  considerations  lead  to  the  conclusion  that  there  are 
either  forty-seven  or  fifty-five  unmoved  movers  (1074*).  The 
relation  of  these  to  God  is  not  made  clear;  indeed  the  natural 
interpretation  would  be  that  there  are  forty-seven  or  fifty-five 
gods.  For  after  one  of  the  above  passages  on  God  Aristotle  pro- 
ceeds: "We  must  not  ignore  the  question  whether  we  are  to 
suppose  one  such  substance  or  more  than  one,"  and  at  once 
embarks  upon  the  argument  that  leads  to  the  forty-seven  or 
fifty-five  unmoved  movers. 

The  conception  of  an  unmoved  mover  is  a  difficult  one.  To  a 
modern  mind,  it  would  seem  that  the  cause  of  a  change  must  be  a 
previous  change,  and  that,  if  the  universe  were  ever  wholly  static, 
it  would  remain  so  eternally.  To  understand  what  Aristotle  means, 
we  must  take  account  of  what  he  says  about  causes.  There  are, 
according  to  him,  four  kinds  of  causes,  which  were  called,  respec- 
tively, material,  formal,  efficient,  and  final.  Let  us  take  again  the 
man  who  is  making  a  statue.  The  material  cause  of  the  statue  is 
the  marble,  the  formal  cause  is  the  essence  of  the  statue  to  be 
produced,  the  efficient  cause  is  the  contact  of  the  chisel  with  the 
marble,  and  the  final  cause  is  the  end  that  the  sculptor  has  in 
view.  In  modern  terminology,  the  word  "cause"  would  be  con- 
fined to  the  efficient  cause.  The  unmoved  mover  may  be  regarded 
as  a  final  cause :  it  supplies  a  purpose  for  change,  which  is  essentially 
an  evolution  towards  likeness  with  God. 

I  said  that  Aristotle  was  not  by  temperament  deeply  religious, 
but  this  is  only  partly  true.  One  could,  perhaps,  interpret  one 
aspect  of  his  religion,  somewhat  freely,  as  follows: 

God  exists  eternally,  as  pure  thought,  happiness,  complete  self- 
fulfilment,  without  any  unrealized  purposes.  The  sensible  world, 
oo  the  contrary,  is  imperfect,  but  it  has  life,  desire,  thought  of  an 
imperfect  kind,  and  aspiration.  All  living  things  are  in  a  greater 
or  less  degree  aware  of  God,  and  are  moved  to  action  by  admira- 
tion and  love  of  God.  Thus  God  is  the  final  cause  of  all  activity. 
Change  consists  in  giving  form  to  matter,  but,  where  sensible 

191 


WESTERN   PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

things  are  concerned,  a  substratum  of  matter  always  remains. 
Only  God  consists  of  form  without  matter.  The  world  is  con- 
tinually evolving  towards  a  greater  degree  of  form,  and  thus 
becoming  progressively  more  like  God.  But  the  process  cannot 
be  completed,  because  matter  cannot  be  wholly  eliminated.  This 
is  a  religion  of  progress  and  evolution,  for  God's  static  perfection 
moves  the  world  only  through  the  love  that  finite  beings  feel  for 
Him.  Plato  was  mathematical,  Aristotle  was  biological;  this 
accounts  for  the  differences  in  their  religions. 

This  would,  however,  be  a  one-sided  view  of  Aristotle's  religion ; 
he  has  also  the  Greek  love  of  static  perfection  and  preference  for 
contemplation  rather  than  action.  His  doctrine  of  the  soul 
illustrates  this  aspect  of  his  philosophy. 

Whether  Aristotle  taught  immortality  in  any  form,  or  not,  was 
a  vexed  question  among  commentators.  Avenoes,  who  held  that 
he  did  not,  had  followers  in  Christian  countries,  of  whom  the 
more  extreme  were  called  Epicureans,  and  whom  Dante  found  in 
hell.  In  fact,  Aristotle's  doctrine  is  complex,  and  easily  lends  itself 
to  misunderstandings.  In  his  book  On  the  Soul,  he  regards  the 
soul  as  bound  up  with  the  body,  and  ridicules  the  Pythagorean 
doctrine  of  transmigration  (407*).  The  soul,  it  seems,  perishes 
with  the  body:  "it  indubitably  follows  that  the  soul  is  inseparable 
from  its  body"  (4x3*);  but  he  immediately  adds:  "or  at  any  rate 
certain  parts  of  it  are."  Body  and  soul  are  related  as  matter  and 
form:  "the  soul  must  be  a  substance  in  the  sense  of  the  form  of 
a  material  body  having  life  potentially  within  it.  But  substance  is 
actuality,  and  thus  soul  is  the  actuality  of  a  body  as  above  charac- 
terized" (412*).  Soul  "is  substance  in  the  sense  which  corresponds 
to  the  definitive  formula  of  a  thing's  essence.  That  means  that  it 
is  the  'essential  whatness'  of  a  body  of  the  character  just  assigned1' 
(i.e.  having  Hfe)  (412*).  The  soul  is  the  first  grade  of  actuality  of 
a  natural  body  having  life  potentially  in  it.  The  body  so  described 
is  a  body  which  is  organized  (412*).  To  ask  whether  soul  and  body 
are  one  is  as  meaningless  as  to  ask  whether  the  wax  and  the  shape 
given  it  by  the  stamp  are  one  (412*).  Self  •nutrition  is  the  only 
psychic  power  possessed  by  plants  (413').  The  soul  is  the  final 
cause  of  the  body  (414"). 

In  this  book,  he  distinguishes  between  "soul"  and  "mind," 
making  mind  higher  than  soul,  and  less  bound  to  the  body.  After 
•peaking  of  the  relation  of  soul  and  body,  he  says:  "The  case  of 

192 


ARISTOTLE'S  METAPHYSICS 

mind  is  different;  it  seems  to  be  an  independent  substance  im- 
planted within  the  soul  and  to  be  incapable  of  being  destroyed" 
(408*).  Again:  "We  have  no  evidence  as  yet  about  mind  or  the 
power  to  think;  it  seems  to  be  a  widely  different  kind  of  soul, 
differing  as  what  is  eternal  from  what  is  perishable;  it  alone  is 
capable  of  existence  in  isolation  from  all  other  psychic  powers. 
All  the  other  parts  of  soul,  it  is  evident  from  what  we  have  said, 
are,  in  spite  of  certain  statements  to  the  contrary,  incapable  of 
separate  existence**  (413*).  The  mind  is  the  part  of  us  that  under- 
stands mathematics  and  philosophy;  its  objects  are  timeless,  and 
therefore  it  is  regarded  as  itself  timeless.  The  soul  is  what  moves 
the  body  and  perceives  sensible  objects ;  it  is  characterized  by  self- 
nutrition,  sensation,  feeling,  and  motivity  (413*);  but  the  mind 
has  the  higher  function  of  thinking,  which  has  no  relation  to  the 
body  or  to  the  senses.  Hence  the  mind  can  be  immortal,  though 
the  rest  of  the  soul  cannot. 

To  understand  Aristotle's  doctrine  of  the  soul,  we  must  re- 
member that  the  soul  is  the  "form"  of  the  body,  and  that  spatial 
shape  is  one  kind  of  "form."  What  is  there  in  common  between 
soul  and  shape?  I  think  what  is  in  common  is  the  conferring  of 
unity  upon  a  certain  amount  of  matter.  The  part  of  a  block  of 
marble  which  afterwards  becomes  a  statue  is,  as  yet,  not  separated 
from  the  rest  of  the  marble;  it  is  not  yet  a  "thing,"  and  has  not 
yet  any  unity.  After  the  sculptor  has  made  the  statue,  it  has  unity, 
which  it  derives  from  its  shape.  Now  the  essential  feature  of  the 
soul,  in  virtue  of  which  it  is  the  "form"  of  the  body,  is  that  it 
makes  the  body  an  organic  whole,  having  purposes  as  a  unit.  A 
single  organ  has  purposes  lying  outside  itself;  the  eye,  in  isolation, 
cannot  see.  Thus  many  things  can  be  said  in  which  an  animal  or 
plant  as  a  whole  is  the  subject,  which  cannot  be  said  about  any 
part  of  it.  It  is  in  this  sense  that  organization,  or  form,  confers 
substantiality.  That  which  confers  substantiality  upon  a  plant  or 
animal  is  what  Aristotle  calls  its  "soul/1  But  "mind"  is  some- 
thing different,  less  intimately  bound  up  with  the  body;  perhaps 
it  is  a  part  of  the  soul,  but  it  is  possessed  by  only  a  small  minority 
of  living  beings  (415").  Mind  as  speculation  cannot  be  the  cause 
of  movement,  for  it  never  thinks  about  what  is  practicable,  and 
never  says  what  is  to  be  avoided  or  what  pursued  (432*). 

A  similar  doctrine,  though  with  a  slight  change  of  terminology, 
is  set  forth  in  the  Nicomachean  Ethics.  There  is  in  the  soul  one 

Hukiry  »/  H' 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

element  that  is  rational,  and  one  that  is  irrational.  The  irrational 
part  is  two-fold:  the  vegetative,  which  is  found  in  everything 
living,  even  in  plants,  and  the  appetitive,  which  exists  in  all 
animals  (1102*).  The  life  of  the  rational  soul  consists  in  contem- 
plation, which  is  the  complete  happiness  of  man  though  not  fully 
attainable.  "Such  a  life  would  be  too  high  for  man;  for  it  is  not 
in  so  far  as  he  is  man  that  he  will  live  so,  but  in  so  far  as  something 
divine  is  present  in  him ;  and  by  so  much  as  this  is  superior  to  our 
composite  nature  is  its  activity  superior  to  that  which  is  the 
exercise  of  the  other  kind  of  virtue  (the  practical  kind).  If  reason 
is  divine,  then,  in  comparison  with  man,  the  life  in  accordance 
with  it  is  divine  in  comparison  with  human  life.  But  we  must  not 
follow  those  who  advise  us,  being  men,  to  think  of  human  things, 
and  being  mortal,  of  mortal  things,  but  must,  so  far  as  we  can, 
make  ourselves  immortal,  and  strain  every  nerve  to  live  in  accord- 
ance with  the  best  thing  in  us;  for  even  if  it  be  small  in  bulk, 
much  more  does  it  in  power  and  worth  surpass  everything"  ( 1 177'). 
It  seems,  from  these  passages,  that  individuality — what  distin- 
guishes one  man  from  another — is  connected  with  the  body  and 
the  irrational  soul,  while  the  rational  soul  or  mind  is  divine  and 
impersonal.  One  man  likes  oysters,  and  another  likes  pineapples; 
this  distinguishes  between  them.  But  when  they  think  about  the 
multiplication  table,  provided  they  think  correctly,  there  is  no 
difference  between  them.  The  irrational  separates  us,  the  rational 
unites  us.  Thus  the  immortality  of  mind  or  reason  is  not  a  personal 
immortality  of  separate  men,  but  a  share  in  God's  immortality. 
It  does  not  appear  that  Aristotle  believed  in  personal  immortality, 
in  the  sense  in  which  it  was  taught  by  Plato  and  afterwards  by 
Christianity.  He  believed  only  that,  in  so  far  as  men  are  rational, 
they  partake  of  the  divine,  which  is  immortal.  It  is  open  to  man 
to  increase  the  element  of  the  divine  in  his  nature,  and  to  do  so 
is  the  highest  virtue.  But  if  he  succeeded  completely,  he  would 
have  ceased  to  exist  as  a  separate  person.  This  is  perhaps  not  the 
only  possible  interpretation  of  Aristotle's  words,  but  I  think  it  is 
the  most  natural. 


'94 


Chapter  XX 
ARISTOTLE'S   ETHICS 

IN  the  corpus  of  Aristotle's  works,  three  treatises  on  ethics  have 
a  place,  but  two  of  these  are  now  generally  held  to  be  by  dis- 
ciples. The  third,  the  Nicomachean  Ethics,  remains  for  the  most 
part  unquestioned  as  to  authenticity,  but  even  in  this  book  there 
is  a  portion  (Books  V,  VI,  and  VII)  which  is  held  by  many  to  have 
been  incorporated  from  one  of  the  works  of  disciples.  I  shall, 
however,  ignore  this  controversial  question,  and  treat  the  book  as 
a  whole  and  as  Aristotle's. 

The  views  of  Aristotle  on  ethics  represent,  in  the  main,  the  pre- 
vailing opinions  of  educated  and  experienced  men  of  his  day. 
They  are  not,  like  Plato's,  impregnated  with  mystical  religion;  nor 
do  they  countenance  such  unorthodox  theories  as  are  to  be  found 
in  the  Republic  concerning  property  and  the  family.  Those  who 
neither  fall  below  nor  rise  above  the  level  of  decent,  well-behaved 
citizens  mil  find  in  the  Ethics  a  systematic  account  of  the  prin- 
ciples by  which  they  hold  that  their  conduct  should  be  regulated. 
Those  who  demand  anything  more  will  be  disappointed.  The 
book  appeals  to  the  respectable  middle-aged,  and  has  been  used 
by  them,  especially  since  the  seventeenth  century,  to  repress  the 
ardours  and  enthusiasms  of  the  young.  But  to  a  man  with  any 
depth  of  feeling  it  is  likely  to  be  repulsive. 

The  good,  we  are  told,  is  happiness,  which  is  an  activity  of  the 
soul.  Aristotle  says  that  Plato  was  right  in  dividing  the  soul  into 
two  parts,  one  rational,  the  other  irrational.  The  irrational  part 
itself  he  divides  into  the  vegetative  (which  is  found  even  in  plants) 
and  the  appetitive  (which  is  found  in  all  animals).  The  appetitive 
part  may  be  in  some  degree  rational,  when  the  goods  that  it  seeks 
arc  such  as  reason  approves  of.  This  is  essential  to  the  account  of 
virtue,  for  reason  alone,  in  Aristotle,  is  purely  contemplative,  and 
docs  not,  without  the  help  of  appetite,  lead  to  any  practical 
activity. 

There  are  two  kinds  of  virtues,  intellectual  and  moral,  corre- 
sponding to  the  two  parts  of  the  soul.  Intellectual  virtues  result 
from  teaching,  moral  virtues  from  habit.  It  is  the  business  of  the 
legislator  to  make  the  citizens  good  by  forming  good  habits.  We 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

become  just  by  performing  just  acts,  and  similarly  as  regards 
other  virtues.  By  being  compelled  to  acquire  good  habits,  we  shall 
in  time,  Aristotle  thinks,  come  to  find  pleasure  in  performing  good 
actions.  One  is  reminded  of  Hamlet's  speech  to  his  mother: 

Assume  a  virtue  if  you  have  it  not. 

That  monster,  custom,  who  all  sense  doth  eat, 

Of  habits  devil,  is  angel,  yet  in  this 

That  to  the  use  of  actions  fair  and  good 

He  likewise  gives  a  frock  or  livery 

That  aptly  is  put  on. 

We  now  come  to  the  famous  doctrine  of  the  golden  mean. 
Every  virtue  is  a  mean  between  two  extremes,  each  of  which  is  a 
vice.  This  is  proved  by  an  examination  of  the  various  virtues. 
Courage  is  a  mean  between  cowardice  and  rashness;  liberality, 
between  prodigality  and  meanness ;  proper  pride,  between  vanity 
and  humility;  ready  wit,  between  buffoonery  and  boorishness; 
modesty,  between  bashfulness  and  shamelessness.  Some  virtues 
do  not  seem  to  fit  into  this  scheme;  for  instance,  truthfulness. 
Aristotle  says  that  this  is  a  mean  between  boastfulness  and  mock- 
modesty  (1108*),  but  this  only  applies  to  truthfulness  about  one- 
self. I  do  not  see  how  truthfulness  in  any  wider  sense  can  be  fitted 
into  the  scheme.  There  was  once  a  mayor  who  had  adopted 
Aristotle's  doctrine ;  at  the  end  of  his  term  of  office  he  made  a 
speech  saying  that  he  had  endeavoured  to  steer  the  narrow  line 
between  partiality  on  the  one  hand  and  impartiality  on  the  other. 
The  view  of  truthfulness  as  a  mean  seems  scarcely  less  absurd. 

Aristotle's  opinions  on  moral  questions  are  always  such  as  were 
conventional  in  his  day.  On  some  points  they  differ  from  those  of 
our  time,  chiefly  where  some  form  of  aristocracy  comes  in.  We 
think  that  human  beings,  at  least  in  ethical  theory,  all  have  equal 
rights,  and  that  justice  involves  equality;  Aristotle  thinks  that 
justice  involves,  not  equality,  but  right  proportion,  which  is  only 
sometimes  equality  (1131*). 

The  justice  of  a  master  or  a  father  is  a  different  thing  from  that 
of  a  citizen,  for  a  son  or  slave  is  property,  and  there  can  be  no 
injustice  to  one's  own  property  (i  134*).  As  regards  stoves,  however, 
there  is  a  slight  modification  of  this  doctrine  in  connection  with 
the  question  whether  it  is  possible  for  a  man  to  be  a  friend  of  his 
slave:  "There  is  nothing  in  common  between  the  two  parties;  the 
slave  is  a  living  tool.  .  .  .  Qua  slave,  then,  one  cannot  be  friends 

196 


ARISTOTLE'S  ETHICS 

with  him.  But  qua  man  one  can ;  for  there  seems  to  be  some  justice 
between  any  man  and  any  other  who  can  share  in  a  system  of 
law  or  be  a  party  to  an  agreement;  therefore  there  can  also  be 
friendship  with  him  in  so  far  as  he  is  a  man"  (n6i6). 

A  father  can  repudiate  his  son  if  he  is  wicked,  but  a  son  cannot 
repudiate  his  father,  because  he  owes  him  more  than  he  can  pos- 
sibly repay,  especially  existence  (n636).  In  unequal  relations,  it  is 
right,  since  everybody  should  be  loved  in  proportion  to  his  worth, 
that  the  inferior  should  love  the  superior  more  than  the  superior 
loves  the  inferior:  wives,  children,  subjects,  should  have  more  love 
for  husbands,  parents,  and  monarchs  than  the  latter  have  for 
them.  In  a  good  marriage,  "the  man  rules  in  accordance  with 
his  worth,  and  in  those  matters  in  which  a  man  should  rule,  but 
the  matters  that  befit  a  woman  he  hands  over  to  her"  (1160*). 
He  should  not  rule  in  her  province;  still  less  should  she  rule  in 
his,  as  sometimes  happens  when  she  is  an  heiress. 

The  best  individual,  as  conceived  by  Aristotle,  is  a  very  different 
person  from  the  Christian  saint.  He  should  have  proper  pride,  and 
not  underestimate  his  own  merits.  He  should  despise  whoever 
deserves  to  be  despised  (1124*).  The  description  of  the  proud  or 
magnanimous  man1  is  very  interesting  as  showing  the  difference 
between  pagan  and  Christian  ethics,  and  the  sense  in  which 
Nietzsche  was  justified  in  regarding  Christianity  as  a  slave- 
morality. 

The  magnanimous  man,  since  he  deserves  most,  must  be  good, 
in  the  highest  degree;  for  the  better  man  always  deserves  more, 
and  the  best  man  most.  Therefore  the  truly  magnanimous  man 
must  be  good.  And  greatness  in  every  virtue  would  seem  to  be 
characteristic  of  the  magnanimous  man.  And  it  would  be  most 
unbecoming  for  the  magnanimous  man  to  fly  from  danger, 
swinging  his  arms  by  his  sides,  or  to  wrong  another;  for  to  what 
end  should  he  do  disgraceful  acts,  he  to  whom  nothing  is  great  ? 
.  .  .  magnanimity,  then,  seems  to  be  a  sort  of  crown  of  the 
virtues;  for  it  makes  them  greater,  and  it  is  not  found  without 
them.  Therefore  it  is  hard  to  be  truly  magnanimous;  for  it  is 

1  The  Greek  word  means,  literally,  "great-souled,"  and  is  usually 
translated  "magnanimous, "  but  the  Oxford  translation  renders  it  "proud.*' 
Neither  word,  in  its  modern  usage,  quite  expresses  Aristotle's  meaning, 
but  1  prefrr"magnaninu>us,"  and  have  therefore  substituted  it  for'* proud" 
in  the  above  qtyotation  from  the  Oxford  translation. 

"97 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL    THOUGHT 

impossible  without  nobility  and  goodness  of  character.  It  is 
chiefly  with  honours  and  dishonours,  then,  that  the  magnanimous 
man  is  concerned;  and  at  honours  that  are  great  and  conferred 
by  good  men  he  will  be  moderately  pleased,  thinking  that  he  is 
coming  by  his  own  or  even  less  than  his  own;  for  there  can  be 
no  honour  that  is  worthy  of  perfect  virtue,  yet  he  will  at  any  rate 
accept  it  since  they  have  nothing  greater  to  bestow  on  him ;  but 
honour  from  casual  people  and  on  trifling  grounds  he  will  utterly 
despise,  since  it  is  not  this  that  he  deserves,  and  dishonour  too, 
since  in  his  case  it  cannot  be  just.  .  .  .  Power  and  wealth  arc 
desirable  for  the  sake  of  honour;  and  to  him  for  whom  even 
honour  is  a  little  thing  the  others  must  be  so  too.  Hence  magnani- 
mous men  are  thought  to  be  disdainful.  .  .  .  The  magnanimous 
man  does  not  run  into  trifling  dangers,  .  .  .  but  he  will  face  great 
dangers,  and  when  he  is  in  danger  he  is  unsparing  of  his  life, 
knowing  that  there  are  conditions  on  which  life  is  not  worth 
having.  And  he  is  the  sort  of  man  to  confer  benefits,  but  he  is 
ashamed  of  receiving  them;  for  the  one  is  the  mark  of  a  superior, 
the  other  of  an  inferior.  And  he  is  apt  to  confer  greater  benefits 
in  return;  for  thus  the  original  benefactor  besides  being  repaid 
will  incur  a  debt  to  him.  ...  It  is  the  mark  of  the  magnanimous 
man  to  ask  for  nothing  or  scarcely  anything,  but  to  give  help 
readily,  and  to  be  dignified  towards  people  who  enjoy  a  hiuh 
position  but  unassuming  towards  those  of  the  middle  class;  for 
it  is  a  difficult  and  lofty  thing  to  be  superior  to  the  former,  but 
easy  to  be  so  to  the  latter,  and  a  lofty  bearing  over  the  former  is 
no  mark  of  ill-breeding,  but  among  humble  people  it  is  as  vulgar 
as  a  display  of  strength  against  the  weak.  ...  lie  must  also  be 
open  in  his  hate  and  in  his  love,  for  to  conceal  one's  feelings, 
i.e.  to  care  less  for  truth  than  for  what  people  think,  is  a  coward's 
part.  .  .  .  He  is  free  of  speech  because  he  is  contemptuous,  and 
he  is  given  to  telling  the  truth,  except  when  he  speaks  in  irony 
to  the  vulgar.  . . .  Nor  is  he  given  to  admiration,  for  to  him  nothing 
is  great.  .  .  .  Nor  is  he  a  gossip;  for  he  will  speak  neither  about 
himself  nor  about  another,  since  he  cares  not  to  be  praised  nor 
for  others  to  be  blamed.  ...  He  is  one  who  will  possess  beautiful 
and  profitless  things  rather  than  profitable  and  useful  ones,  .  .  . 
Further,  a  slow  step  is  thought  proper  to  the  magnanimous  man, 
a  deep  voice,  and  a  level  utterance.  .  .  .  Such,  then,  is  the  magnani- 
mous man;  the  man  who  falls  short  of  him  is  unduly  humble 
and  the  man  who  goes  beyond  him  is  vain"  (1123*-!  125*). 

One  shudders  to  think  what  a  vain  man  would  b?  like. 
Whatc/er  may  be  thought  of  the  magnanimous  pun,  one  thing 


ARISTOTLE'S  ETHICS 

is  clear:  there  cannot  be  very  many  of  him  in  a  community.  I  do 
not  mean  merely  in  the  general  sense  in  which  there  are  not  likely 
to  be  many  virtuous  men,  on  the  ground  that  virtue  is  difficult; 
what  I  mean  is  that  the  virtues  of  the  magnanimous  man  largely 
depend  upon  his  having  an  exceptional  social  position.  Aristotle 
considers  ethics  a  branch  of  politics,  and  it  is  not  surprising,  after 
his  praise  of  pride,  to  find  that  he  considers  monarchy  the  best 
form  of  government,  and  aristocracy  the  next  best.  Monarchs  and 
aristocrats  can  be  "magnanimous,"  but  ordinary  citizens  would 
be  laughable  if  they  attempted  to  live  up  to  such  a  pattern. 

This  brings  up  a  question  which  is  half  ethical,  half  political. 
Can  we  regard  as  morally  satisfactory  a  community  which,  by  its 
essential  constitution,  confines  the  best  things  to  a  few,  and 
requires  the  majority  to  be  content  with  the  second-best?  Plato 
and  Aristotle  say  yes,  and  Nietzsche  agrees  with  them.  Stoics, 
Christians,  and  democrats  say  no.  But  there  are  great  differences 
in  their  ways  of  saying  no.  Stoics  and  early  Christians  consider 
that  the  greatest  pood  is  virtue,  and  that  external  circumstances 
cannot  prevent  a  man  from  being  virtuous;  there  is  therefore  no 
need  to  seek  a  just  social  system,  since  social  injustice  affects  only 
unimportant  matters.  The  democrat,  on  the  contrary,  usually 
holds  that,  at  least  so  far  as  politics  are  concerned,  the  most 
important  goods  are  power  and  property;  he  cannot,  therefore, 
acquiesce  in  a  social  system  which  is  unjust  in  these  respects. 

The  Stoic-Christian  view  requires  a  conception  of  virtue  very 
different  from  Aristotle's,  since  it  must  hold  that  virtue  is  as 
possible  for  the  slave  as  for  his  master.  Christian  ethics  dis- 
approves of  pride,  which  Aristotle  thinks  a  virtue,  and  praises 
humility,  which  he  thinks  a  vice.  The  intellectual  virtues,  which 
Plato  and  Aristotle  value  above  all  others,  have  to  be  thrust  out 
of  the  list  altogether,  in  order  that  the  poor  and  humble  may  be 
able  to  be  as  virtuous  as  any  one  else.  Pope  Gregory  the  Great 
solemnly  reproved  a  bishop  for  teaching  grammar. 

The  Aristotelian  view,  that  the  highest  virtue  is  for  the  few,  is 
logically  connected  with  the  subordination  of  ethics  to  politics, 
if  the  aim  is  the  good  community  rather  than  the  good  individual, 
it  i«  possible  that  the  good  community  may  be  one  in  which  there 
is  subordination.  In  an  orchestra,  the  first  violin  is  more  important 
than  the  oboe,  though  both  arc  necessary  for  the  excellence  of  the 
whole.  It  is  impossible  to  organize  an  orchestra  on  the  principle 

199 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL    THOUGHT 

of  giving  to  each  man  what  would  be  best  lor  him  as  an  isolated 
individual.  The  same  sort  of  thing  applies  to  the  government  of  a 
large  modern  State,  however  democratic.  A  modern  democracy 
— unlike  those  of  antiquity— confers  great  power  upon  certain 
chosen  individuals,  Presidents  or  Prime  Ministers,  and  must  expect 
of  them  kinds  of  merit  which  are  not  expected  of  the  ordinary 
citizen.  When  people  are  not  thinking  in  terms  of  religion  or 
political  controversy,  they  are  likely  to  hold  that  a  good  President 
is  more  to  be  honoured  than  a  good  bricklayer.  In  a  democracy 
a  President  is  not  expected  to  be  quite  like  Aristotle's  magnani- 
mous man,  but  still  he  is  expected  to  be  rather  different  from  the 
average  citizen,  and  to  have  certain  merits  connected  with  his 
station.  These  peculiar  merits  would  perhaps  not  be  considered 
"ethical,*1  but  that  is  because  we  use  this  adjective  in  a  narrower 
sense  than  that  in  which  it  is  used  by  Aristotle. 

As  a  result  of  Christian  dogma,  the  distinction  between  moral 
and  other  merits  has  become  much  sharper  than  it  was  in  Greek 
times.  It  is  a  merit  in  a  man  to  be  a  great  poet  or  composer  or 
painter,  but  not  a  moral  merit;  we  do  not  consider  him  the  more 
virtuous  for  possessing  such  aptitudes,  or  the  more  likely  to  go 
to  heaven.  Moral  merit  is  concerned  solely  with  acts  of  will,  i.e. 
with  choosing  rightly  among  possible  courses  of  action.1  I  am  not 
to  blame  for  not  composing  an  opera,  because  I  don't  know  how 
to  do  it.  The  orthodox  view  is  that,  wherever  two  courses  of  action 
are  possible,  conscience  tells  me  which  is  right,  and  to  choose  the 
other  is  sin.  Virtue  consists  mainly  in  the  avoidance  of  sin,  rather 
than  in  anything  positive.  There  is  no  reason  to  expect  an  educated 
man  to  be  morally  better  than  an  uneducated  man,  or  a  clever 
man  than  a  stupid  man.  In  this  way,  a  number  of  merits  of  great 
social  importance  are  shut  out  from  the  realm  of  ethics.  The 
adjective  "unethical,"  in  modern  usage,  has  a  much  narrower 
range  than  the  adjective  "undesirable.11  It  is  undesirable  to  be 
feeble-minded,  but  not  unethical. 

Many  modern  philosophers,  however,  have  not  accepted  this 
view  of  ethics.  They  have  thought  that  one  should  first  define  the 
good,  and  then  say  that  our  actions  ought  to  be  such  as  tend  to 
realize  the  good.  This  point  of  view  is  more  like  that  of  Aristotle, 
who  holds  that  happiness  is  the  good.  The  highest  happiness,  it 

1  It  i*  true  that  Aristotle  also  say*  this  (i  105'),  but  as  he  means  it  the 
consequences  are  not  so  far-reaching  as  in  the  Christian  interpretation. 

200 


ARISTOTLE'S  ETHICS 

is  true,  is  only  open  to  the  philosopher,  but  to  Aristotle  that  is  no 
objection  to  the  theory. 

Ethical  theories  may  be  divided  into  two  classes,  according  as 
they  regard  virtue  as  an  end  or  a  means.  Aristotle,  on  the  whole, 
takes  the  view  that  virtues  are  means  to  an  end,  namely  happiness. 
"The  end,  then,  being  what  we  wish  for,  the  means  what  we 
deliberate  about  and  choose,  actions  concerning  means  must  be 
according  to  choice  and  voluntary.  Now  the  exercise  of  the  virtues 
is  concerned  with  means"  (iii36).  But  there  is  another  sense  of 
virtue  in  which  it  is  included  in  the  ends  of  action:  "Human  good 
is  activity  of  soul  in  accordance  with  virtue  in  a  complete  life" 
(1098*).  I  think  he  would  say  that  the  intellectual  virtues  are  ends, 
but  the  practical  virtues  are  only  means.  Christian  moralists  hold 
that,  while  the  consequences  of  virtuous  actions  are  in  general 
good,  they  are  not  as  good  as  the  virtuous  actions  themselves, 
which  are  to  be  valued  on  their  own  account,  and  not  on  account 
of  their  effects.  On  the  other  hand,  those  who  consider  pleasure 
the  good  regard  virtues  solely  as  means.  Any  other  definition  of 
the  good,  except  the  definition  as  virtue,  will  have  the  same  conse- 
quence, that  virtues  are  means  to  goods  other  than  themselves. 
On  this  question,  Aristotle,  as  already  said,  agrees  mainly,  though 
not  wholly,  with  those  who  think  the  first  business  of  ethics  is  to 
define  the  good,  and  that  virtue  is  to  be  defined  as  action  tending 
to  produce  the  good. 

The  relation  of  ethics  to  politics  raises  another  ethical  question 
of  considerable  importance.  Granted  that  the  good  at  which  right 
action  should  aim  is  the  good  of  the  whole  community,  or,  ulti- 
mately, of  the  whole  human  race,  is  this  social  good  a  sum  of 
goods  enjoyed  by  individuals,  or  is  it  something  belonging 
essentially  to  the  whole,  not  to  the  parts  ?  We  may  illustrate  the 
problem  by  the  analogy  of  the  human  body.  Pleasures  are  largely 
associated  with  different  parts  of  the  body,  but  we  consider  them 
as  belonging  to  a  person  as  a  whole;  we  may  enjoy  a  pleasant 
smell,  but  we  know  that  the  nose  alone  could  not  enjoy  it.  Some 
contend  that,  in  a  closely  organized  community,  there  are,  analo- 
gously, excellences  belonging  to  the  whole,  but  not  to  any  part. 
If  they  are  metaphysicians,  they  may  hold,  like  Hegel,  that  what- 
ever quality  is  good  is  an  attribute  of  the  universe  as  a  whole; 
but  they  will  generally  add  that  it  is  less  mistaken  to  attribute  good 
to  a  State  thap  to  an  individual.  logically,  the  view  may  be  put 

201 


WESTERN  PHILOSOPHICAL  THOUGHT 

as  follows.  We  can  attribute  to  a  State  various  predicates  that 
cannot  be  attributed  to  its  separate  members — that  it  is  populous, 
extensive,  powerful,  etc.  The  view  we  are  considering  puts  ethical 
predicates  in  this  class,  and  says  that  they  only  derivatively  belong 
to  individuals.  A  man  may  belong  to  a  populous  State,  or  to  a 
good  State;  but  he,  they  say,  is  no  more  good  than  he  is  populous. 
This  view,  which  has  been  widely  held  by  German  philosophers, 
is  not  Aristotle's,  except  possibly,  in  some  degree,  in  his  conception 
of  justice. 

A  considerable  part  of  the  Ethics  is  occupied  with  the  discussion 
of  friendship,  including  all  relations  that  involve  affection.  Perfect 
friendship  is  only  possible  between  the  good,  and  it  is  impossible 
to  be  friends  with  many  people.  One  should  not  be  friends  with  a 
person  of  higher  station  than  one's  own,  unless  he  is  also  of  higher 
virtue,  which  will  justify  the  respect  shown  to  him.  \Ve  have  seen 
that,  in  unequal  relations,  such  as  those  of  man  and  wife  or  father 
and  son,  the  superior  should  be  the  more  loved.  It  is  impossible 
to  be  friends  with  God,  because  He  cannot  love  us.  Aristotle 
discusses  whether  a  man  can  be  a  friend  to  himself,  and  decides 
that  this  is  only  possible  if  he  is  a  good  man;  wicked  men,  he 
asserts,  often  hate  themselves.  The  good  man  should  love  himself, 
but  nobly  (1169*).  Friends  are  a  comfort  in  misfortune,  but  one 
should  not  make  them  unhappy  by  seeking  their  sympathy,  as  is 
done  by  women  and  womanish  men  (1171*).  It  is  not  only  in 
misfortune  that  friends  are  desirable,  for  the  happy  man  needs 
friends  with  whom  to  share  his  happiness.  "No  one  would  choose 
the  whole  world  on  condition  of  being  alone,  since  man  is  a 
political  creature  and  one  whose  nature  is  to  live  with  others" 
(1169*).  All  that  is  said  about  friendship  is  sensible,  but  there  is 
not  a  word  that  rises  above  common  sense. 

Aristotle  again  shows  his  good  sense  in  the  discussion  of  pleasure, 
which  Plato  had  regarded  somewhat  ascetically.  Pleasure,  as 
Aristotle  uses  the  word,  is  distinct  from  happiness,  though  there 
can  be  no  happiness  without  pleasure.  There  are,  he  says,  three 
views  of  pleasure:  (i)  that  it  is  never  good;  (2)  that  some  pleasure- 
is  good,  but  most  is  bad;  (3)  that  pleasure  is  good,  but  not  the 
best.  He  rejects  the  first  of  these  on  the  ground  that  pain  is  cer- 
tainly bad,  and  therefore  pleasure  must  be  good.  He  says,  very 
justly,  that  it  is  nonsense  to  say  a  man  can  be  happy  on  the  rack : 
some  degree  of  external  good  fortune  is  necessary  for  happiness. 

202 


ARISTOTLE'S  ETHICS 

tie  also  disposes  of  the  view  that  all  pleasures  are  bodily ;  all  things 
have  something  divine,  and  therefore  some  capacity  for  higher 
pleasures.  Good  men  have  pleasure  unless  they  are  unfortunate, 
and  God  always  enjoys  a  single  and  simple  pleasure  (1152-1154). 

There  is  another  discussion  of  pleasure,  in  a  later  pan  of  the 
book,  which  is  not  wholly  consistent  with  the  above.  Here  it  is 
argued  that  there  are  bad  pleasures,  which,  however,  are  not 
pleasures  to  pood  people  (1173*);  that  perhaps  pleasures  differ  in 
kind  (ibid.) ;  and  that  pleasures  are  good  or  bad  according  as  they 
are  connected  with  good  or  bad  activities  (1175*).  There  are  things 
that  are  valued  more  than  pleasure;  no  one  would  be  content  to 
go  through  life  with  a  child's  intellect,  even  if  it  were  pleasant  to 
do  so.  Each  animal  has  its  proper  pleasure,  and  the  proper  pleasure 
of  man  is  connected  with  reason. 

This  leads  on  to  the  only  doctrine  in  the  book  which  is  not  mere 
common  sense.  Happiness  lies  in  virtuous  activity,  and  perfect 
happiness  lies  in  the  best  activity,  which  is  contemplative.  Con- 
templation is  preferable  to  war  or  politics  or  any  other  practical 
career,  because  it  allows  leisure,  and  leisure  is  essential  to  happi- 
ness. Practical  virtue  brings  only  a  secondary  kind  of  happiness; 
the  supreme  happiness  is  in  the  exercise  of  reason,  for  reason, 
more  than  anything  else,  is  man.  Man  cannot  be  wholly  contem- 
plative, but  in  so  far  as  he  is  so  he  shares  in  the  divine  life.  "The 
activity  of  God,  which  surpasses  all  others  in  blessedness,  must 
be  contemplative."  Of  all  human  beings,  the  philosopher  is  the 
most  godlike  in  his  activity,  and  therefore  the  happiest  and  best: 

I  Ic  who  exercises  his  reason  and  cultivates  it  seems  to  be  both 
in  the  be*»t  state  of  mind  and  most  dear  to  the  gods.  For  if  the  gods 
have  any  care  for  human  affairs,  as  they  are  thought  to  have,  it 
would  be  reasonable  both  that  they  should  delight  in  that  which 
was  best  and  most  akin  to  them  (i.e.  reason)  and  that  they  should 
reward  those  who  love  and  honour  this  most,  as  caring  for  the 
things  that  are  dear  to  them  and  acting  both  rightly  and  nobly. 
And  that  all  these  attributes  belong  most  of  all  to  the  philosopher 
is  manifest.  He,  therefore,  is  the  dearest  to  the  gods.  And  he  who 
is  that  will  presumably  be  also  the  happiest;  so  that  in  this  way 
too  the  philosopher  will  more  than  any  other  be  happy  (1179*). 

This  passage  is  virtually  the  peroration  of  the  Ethics-,  the  few 

paragraphs  that  follow  are  concerned  with  the  transition  to  politics. 

Let  us  now  try  to  decide  what  we  are  to  think  of  the  merits  and 

203 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL    THOUGHT 

demerits  of  the  Ethics.  Unlike  many  other  subjects  treated  by 
Greek  philosophers,  ethics  has  not  made  any  definite  advances, 
in  the  sense  of  ascertained  discoveries ;  nothing  in  ethics  is  known 
in  a  scientific  sense.  There  is  therefore  no  reason  why  an  ancient 
treatise  on  it  should  be  in  any  respect  inferior  to  a  modern  one. 
When  Aristotle  talks  about  astronomy,  we  can  say  definitely  that 
he  is  wrong;  but  when  he  talks  about  ethics  we  cannot  say,  in 
the  same  sense,  either  that  he  is  wrong  or  that  he  is  right.  Broadly 
speaking,  there  are  three  questions  that  we  can  ask  about  the 
ethics  of  Aristotle,  or  of  any  other  philosopher:  (i)  Is  it  internally 
self-consistent?  (2)  Is  it  consistent  with  the  remainder  of  the 
author's  views  ?  (3)  Does  it  give  answers  to  ethical  problems  that 
are  consonant  to  our  own  ethical  feelings  ?  If  the  answer  to  cither 
the  first  or  second  question  is  in  the  negative,  the  philosopher  in 
question  has  been  guilty  of  some  intellectual  error.  But  if  the 
answer  to  the  third  question  is  in  the  negative,  we  have  no  right 
to  say  that  he  is  mistaken ;  we  have  only  the  right  to  say  that  we 
do  not  like  him. 

Let  us  examine  these  three  questions  in  turn,  as  regards  the 
ethical  theory  set  forth  in  the  Nicomachean  Ethics. 

(1)  On  the  whole,  the  book  is  self-consistent,  except  in  a  few 
not  very  important  respects.  The  doctrine  that  the  good  is  happi- 
ness, and  that  happiness  consists  in  successful  activity,  is  well 
worked  out.  The  doctrine  that  every  virtue  is  a  mean  between 
two  extremes,  though  very  ingeniously  developed,  is  less  successful, 
since  it  does  not  apply  to  intellectual  contemplation,  which,  we 
are  told,  is  the  best  of  all  activities.  It  can,  however,  be  maintained 
that  the  doctrine  of  the  mean  is  only  intended  to  apply  to  the 
practical  virtues,  not  to,  those  of  the  intellect.  Perhaps,  to  take 
another  point,  the  position  of  the  legislator  is  somewhat  ambiguous. 
He  is  to  cause  children  and  young  people  to  acquire  the  habit  of 
performing  good  actions,  which  mil,  in  the  end,  lead  them  to  find 
pleasure  in  virtue,  and  to  act  virtuously  without  the  need  of  legal 
compulsion.  It  is  obvious  that  the  legislator  might  equally  well 
cause  the  young  to  acquire  bad  habits;  if  this  is  to  be  avoided,  he 
must  have  all  the  wisdom  of  a  Platonic  guardian ;  and  if  it  is  not 
avoided,  the  argument  that  a  virtuous  life  is  pleasant  will  fail. 
This  problem,  however,  belongs  perhaps  more  to  politics  than 
to  ethics. 

(2)  Aristotle's  ethics  is,  at  all  points,  consistent  with  his  meta- 

204 


ARISTOTLE'S    ETHICS 

physics.  Indeed,  his  metaphysical  theories  are  themselves  the 
expression  of  an  ethical  optimism.  He  believes  in  the  scientific 
importance  of  final  causes,  and  this  implies  the  belief  that  purpose 
governs  the  course  of  development  in  the  universe.  He  thinks 
that  changes  are,  in  the  main,  such  as  embody  an  increase  of 
organization  or  "form,"  and  at  bottom  virtuous  actions  are  those 
that  favour  this  tendency.  It  is  true  that  a  great  deal  of  his  practical 
ethics  is  not  particularly  philosophical,  but  merely  the  result  of 
observation  of  human  affairs ;  but  this  part  of  his  doctrine,  though 
it  may  be  independent  of  his  metaphysics,  is  not  inconsistent 
with  it. 

(3)  When  we  come  to  compare  Aristotle's  ethical  tastes  with 
our  own,  we  find,  in  the  first  place,  as  already  noted,  an  acceptance 
of  inequality  which  is  repugnant  to  much  modern  sentiment. 
Not  only  is  there  no  objection  to  slavery,  or  to  the  superiority 
of  husbands  and  fathers  over  wives  and  children,  but  it  is  held 
that  what  is  best  is  essentially  only  for  the  few — magnanimous 
men  and  philosophers.  Most  men,  it  would  seem  to  follow,  are 
mainly  means  for  the  production  of  a  few  rulers  and  sages.  Kant 
maintained  that  every  human  being  is  an  end  in  himself,  and  this 
may  be  taken  as  an  expression  of  the  view  introduced  by  Christi- 
anity. There  is,  however,  a  logical  difficulty  in  Kant's  view,  since 
it  gives  no  means  of  reaching  a  decision  when  two  men's  interests 
clash.  If  each  is  an  end  in  himself,  how  are  we  to  arrive  at  a  prin- 
ciple for  determining  which  shall  give  way?  Such  a  principle 
must  have  to  do  with  the  community  rather  than  with  the  indi- 
vidual. In  the  broadest  sense  of  the  word,  it  will  have  to  be  a 
principle  of  "justice."  Benthum  and  the  utilitarians  interpret 
"justice"  as  "equality":  when  two  men's  interests  clash,  the  right 
course  is  that  which  produces  the  greatest  total  of  happiness, 
regardless  of  which  of  the  two  enjoys  it,  or  how  it  is  shared  among 
them.  If  more  is  given  to  the  better  man  than  to  the  worse,  that 
is  because,  in  the  long  run,  the  general  happiness  is  increased  by 
rewarding  virtue  and  punishing  vice,  not  because  of  an  ultimate 
ethical  doctrine  that  the  good  deserve  more  than  the  bad.  "Justice," 
in  this  view,  consists  in  considering  only  the  amount  of  happiness 
involved,  without  favour  to  one  individual  or  class  as  against 
another.  Greek  philosophers,  including  Plato  and  Aristotle,  had 
a  different  conception  of  justice,  and  it  is  one  which  is  still  widely 
prevalent.  They  thought — originally  on  grounds  derived  from 

205 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

religion — that  each  thing  or  person  had  its  or  his  proper  sphere, 
to  overstep  which  is  "unjust."  Some  men,  in  virtue  of  their 
character  and  aptitudes,  have  a  wider  sphere  than  others,  and 
there  is  no  injustice  if  they  enjoy  a  greater  share  of  happiness. 
This  view  is  taken  for  granted  in  Aristotle,  but  its  basis  in  primitive 
religion,  which  is  evident  in  the  earliest  philosophers,  is  no  longer 
apparent  in  his  writings. 

There  is  in  Aristotle  an  almost  complete  absence  of  what  may 
be  called  benevolence  or  philanthropy.  The  sufferings  of  mankind, 
in  so  far  as  he  is  aware  of  them  do  not  move  him  emotionally; 
he  holds  them,  intellectually,  to  be  an  evil,  but  there  is  no  evidence 
that  they  cause  him  unhappiness  except  when  the  sufferers  happen 
to  be  his  friends. 

More  generally,  there  is  an  emotional  poverty  in  the  Ethics, 
which  is  not  found  in  the  earlier  philosophers.  There  is  something 
unduly  smug  and  comfortable  about  Aristotle's  speculations  on 
human  affairs;  everything  that  makes  men  feel  a  passionate  interest 
in  each  other  seems  to  be  forgotten.  Even  his  account  of  friend- 
ship is  tepid.  He  shows  no  sign  of  having  had  any  of  those  experi- 
ences which  make  it  difficult  to  preserve  sanity;  all  the  more 
profound  aspects  of  the  moral  life  are  apparently  unknown  to  him. 
He  leaves  out,  one  may  say,  the  whole  sphere  of  human  experi- 
ence with  which  religion  is  concerned.  What  he  ha,s  to  say  is 
what  will  be  useful  to  comfortable  men  of  weak  passions;  but  he 
has  nothing  to  say  to  those  who  are  possessed  by  a  god  or  a  devil, 
or  whom  outward  misfortune  drives  to  despair.  For  these  reasons, 
in  my  judgment,  his  Ethics,  in  spite  of  its  fame,  is  lacking  in 
intrinsic  importance. 


206 


Chapter  XXI 
ARISTOTLE'S    POLITICS 

ARISTOTLE'S  Politics  is  both  interesting  and  important — 
interesting,  as  showing  the  common  prejudices  of  educated 
Greeks  in  his  time,  and  important  as  a  source  of  many  prin- 
ciples which  remained  influential  until  the  end  of  the  Middle 
Ages.  I  do  not  think  there  is  much  in  it  that  could  be  of  any  practical 
use  to  a  statesman  of  the  present  day,  but  there  is  a  great  deal 
that  throws  light  on  the  conflicts  of  parties  in  different  parts  of 
the  Hellenic  world.  There  is  not  very  much  awareness  of  methods 
of  government  in  non-Hellenic  States.  There  are,  it  is  true, 
allusions  to  Egypt,  Babylon,  Persia,  and  Carthage,  but  except  in 
the  case  of  Carthage  they  are  somewhat  perfunctory.  There  is 
no  mention  of  Alexander,  and  not  even  the  faintest  awareness  of 
the  complete  transformation  that  he  was  effecting  in  the  world. 
The  whole  discussion  is  concerned  with  City  States,  and  there  is 
no  prevision  of  their  obsolescence.  Greece,  owing  to  its  division 
into  independent  cities,  was  a  laboratory  of  political  experiment; 
but  nothing  to  which  these  experiments  were  relevant  existed 
from  Aristotle's  time  until  the  rise  of  the  Italian  cities  in  the  Middle 
Ages.  In  many  ways,  the  experience  to  which  Aristotle  appeals  is 
more  relevant  to  the  comparatively  modern  world  than  to  any 
that  existed  for  fifteen  hundred  years  after  the  book  was  written. 
There  are  many  pleasant  incidental  remarks,  some  of  which 
may  be  noted  before  we  embark  upon  political  theory.  We  are 
told  that  Euripides,  when  he  was  staying  at  the  court  of  Archelaus, 
King  of  Macedon,  was  accused  of  halitosis  by  a  certain  Decam- 
nichus.  To  soothe  his  fury,  the  king  gave  him  permission  to 
scourge  Decarnnichus,  which  he  did.  Decamnichus,  after  waiting 
many  years,  joined  in  a  successful  plot  to  kill  the  king;  but  by 
this  time  Euripides  was  dead.  We  are  told  that  children  should 
be  conceived  in  winter,  when  the  wind  is  in  the  north ;  that  there 
must  be  a  careful  avoidance  of  indecency,  because  "shameful 
words  lead  to  shameful  acts,"  and  that  obscenity  is  never  to  be 
tolerated  except  in  temples,  where  the  law  permits  even  ribaldry. 
People  should  not  marry  too  young,  because,  if  they  do,  the 
children  will  be  weak  and  female,  the  wives  will  become  wanton, 

307 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

and  the  husbands  stunted  in  their  growth.  The  right  age  for 
marriage  is  thirty-seven  in  men,  eighteen  in  women. 

We  learn  how  Thales,  being  taunted  with  his  poverty,  bought  up 
all  the  olive-presses  on  the  instalment  plan,  and  was  then  able  to 
charge  monopoly  rates  for  their  use.  This  he  did  to  show  that 
philosophers  can  make  money,  and,  if  they  remain  poor,  it  is 
because  they  have  something  more  important  than  wealth  to 
think  about.  All  this,  however,  is  by  the  way ;  it  is  time  to  come  to 
more  serious  matters. 

The  book  begins  by  pointing  out  the  importance  of  the  State ; 
it  is  the  highest  kind  of  community,  and  aims  at  the  highest  good. 
In  order  of  time,  the  family  comes  first ;  it  is  built  on  the  two 
fundamental  relations  of  man  and  woman,  master  and  slave,  both 
of  which  are  natural.  Several  families  combined  make  a  village ; 
several  villages,  a  State,  provided  the  combination  is  nearly  large 
enough  to  be  self-sufficing.  The  State,  though  later  in  time  than 
the  family,  is  prior  to  it,  and  even  to  the  individual,  by  nature; 
for  "what  each  thing  is  when  fully  developed  we  call  its  nature/' 
and  human  society,  fully  developed,  is  a  State,  and  the  whole 
is  prior  to  the  part.  The  conception  involved  here  is  that  of 
organism:  a  hand,  when  the  body  is  destroyed,  is,  we  are  told,  no 
longer  a  hand.  The  implication  is  that  a  hand  is  to  be  defined  by 
its  purpose — that  of  grasping — which  it  can  only  perform  when 
joined  to  a  living  body.  In  like  manner  an  individual  cannot  fulfil 
his  purpose  unless  he  is  part  of  a  State.  He  who  founded  the 
State,  Aristotle  says,  was  the  greatest  of  benefactors;  for  without 
law  man  is  the  worst  of  animals,  and  law  depends  for  its  existence 
on  the  State.  The  State  is  not  a  mere  society  for  exchange  and  the 
prevention  of  crime:  "The  end  of  the  State  is  the  good  life. 
.  .  .  And  the  State  is  the  union  of  families  and  villages  in  a 
perfect  and  self-sufficing  life,  by  which  we  mean  a  happy  and 
honourable  life"  (1280*).  "A  political  society  exists  for  the  sake 
of  noble  actions,  not  of  mere  companionship"  (1281°). 

A  State  being  composed  of  households,  each  of  which  consists 
of  one  family,  the  discussion  of  politics  should  begin  with  the 
family.  The  bulk  of  this  discussion  is  concerned  with  slavery — 
for  in  antiquity  the  slaves  were  always  reckoned  as  pan  of  the 
family.  Slavery  is  expedient  and  right,  but  the  slave  should  be 
naturally  inferior  to  the  master.  From  birth,  some  are  marked  out 
for  subjection,  others  for  rule;  the  man  who  is  by  nature  not  his 

208 


ARISTOTLE'S  POLITICS 

own  but  another  man's  is  by  nature  a  slave.  Slaves  should  not  be 
Greeks,  but  of  an  inferior  race  with  less  spirit  (1255*  and  1330*). 
Tame  animals  are  better  off  when  ruled  by  man,  and  so  are  those 
who  are  naturally  inferior  when  ruled  by  their  superiors.  It  may 
be  questioned  whether  the  practice  of  making  slaves  out  of 
prisoners  of  war  is  justified ;  power,  such  as  leads  to  victory  in 
war,  seems  to  imply  superior  virtue,  but  this  is  not  always  the 
case.  War,  however,  is  just  when  waged  against  men  who,  though 
intended  by  nature  to  be  governed,  will  not  submit  (1256*);  and 
in  this  case,  it  is  implied,  it  would  be  right  to  make  slaves  of  the 
conquered.  This  would  seem  enough  to  justify  any  conqueror  who 
ever  lived ;  for  no  nation  will  admit  that  it  is  intended  by  nature  to 
be  governed,  and  the  only  evidence  as  to  nature's  intentions 
must  be  derived  from  the  outcome  of  war.  In  every  war,  therefore, 
the  victors  are  in  the  right  and  the  vanquished  in  the  wrong. 
Very  satisfactory ! 

Next  comes  a  discussion  of  trade,  which  profoundly  influenced 
scholastic  casuistry.  There  are  two  uses  of  a  thing,  one  proper, 
the  other  improper;  a  shoe,  for  instance,  may  be  worn,  which  is 
its  proper  use,  or  exchanged,  which  is  its  improper  use.  It  follows 
that  there  is  something  degraded  about  a  shoemaker,  who  must 
exchange  his  shoes  in  order  to  live.  Retail  trade,  we  are  told,  is 
not  a  natural  part  of  the  art  of  getting  wealth  (1257*).  The  natural 
way  to  get  wealth  is  by  skilful  management  of  house  and  land. 
To  the  wealth  that  can  be  made  in  this  way  there  is  a  limit,  but 
to  what  can  be  made  by  trade  there  is  none.  Trade  has  to  do  with 
money,  but  wealth  is  not  the  acquisition  of  coin.  Wealth  derived 
from  trade  is  justly  hated,  because  it  is  unnatural.  "The  most 
hated  sort,  and  with  the  greatest  reason,  is  usury,  which  makes 
a  gain  out  of  money  itself,  and  not  from  the  natural  object  of  it. 
For  money  was  intended  to  be  used  in  exchange,  but  not  to  increase 
at  interest.  ...  Of  all  modes  of  getting  wealth  this  is  the  most 
unnatural"  (1258). 

What  came  of  this  dictum  you  may  read  in  Tawney's  Religion 
and  the  Rise  oj  Capitalism.  But  while  his  history  is  reliable,  his 
comment  has  a  bias  in  favour  of  what  is  pre-capitalistic. 

44 Usury"  means  all  lending  money  at  interest,  not  only,  as  now, 
lending  at  an  exorbitant  rate.  From  Greek  times  to  the  present 
day,  mankind,  or  at  least  the  economically  more  developed 
portion  of  them,  have  been  divided  into  debtors  and  creditors; 

209 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

debtors  have  disapproved  of  interest,  and  creditors  have  approved 
of  it.  At  most  times,  landowners  have  been  debtors,  while  men 
engaged  in  commerce  have  been  creditors.  The  views  of  philo- 
sophers, with  few  exceptions,  have  coincided  with  the  pecuniary 
interests  of  their  class.  Greek  philosophers  belonged  to,  or  were 
employed  by,  the  landowning  class;  they  therefore  disapproved 
of  interest.  Medieval  philosophers  were  churchmen,  and  the 
property  of  the  Church  was  mainly  in  land ;  they  therefore  saw 
no  reason  to  revise  Aristotle's  opinion.  Their  objection  to  usury 
was  reinforced  by  anti-Semitism,  for  most  fluid  capital  was 
Jewish.  Ecclesiastics  and  barons  had  their  quarrels,  sometimes 
very  bitter;  but  they  could  combine  against  the  wicked  Jew  who 
had  tided  them  over  a  bad  harvest  by  means  of  a  loan,  and  con- 
sidered that  he  deserved  some  reward  for  his  thrift. 

With  the  Reformation,  the  situation  changed.  Many  of  the 
most  earnest  Protestants  were  business  men,  to  whom  lending 
money  at  interest  was  essential.  Consequently  first  Calvin,  and 
then  other  Protestant  divines,  sanctioned  interest.  At  last  the 
Catholic  Church  was  compelled  to  follow  suit,  because  the  old 
prohibitions  did  not  suit  the  modern  world.  Philosophers,  whose 
incomes  are  derived  from  the  investments  of  universities,  have 
favoured  interest  ever  since  they  ceased  to  be  ecclesiastics  and 
therefore  connected  with  landowning.  At  every  stage,  theie  has 
been  a  wealth  of  theoretical  argument  to  support  the  economically 
convenient  opinion. 

Plato's  Utopia  is  criticized  by  Aristotle  on  various  grounds. 
There  is  first  the  very  interesting  comment  that  it  gives  too  much 
unity  to  the  State,  and  would  make  it  into  an  individual.  Next 
comes  the  kind  of  argument  against  the  proposed  abolition  of  the 
family  that  naturally  occurs  to  every  reader.  Plato  thinks  that,  by 
merely  giving  the  title  of  "son'*  to  all  who  are  of  an  age  that  makes 
their  sonship  possible,  a  man  will  acquire  towards  the  whole 
multitude  the  sentiments  that  men  have  at  present  towards  their 
actual  sons,  and  correlatively  as  regards  the  title  "father/*  Aristotle, 
on  the  contrary,  says  that  what  is  common  to  the  greatest  number 
receives  the  least  care,  and  that  if  "sons'1  are  common  to  many 
"fathers"  they  will  be  neglected  in  common;  it  is  better  to  be 
a  cousin  in  reality  than  a  "son"  in  Plato's  sense ;  Plato's  plan  would 
make  love  watery.  Then  there  is  a  curious  argument  that,  since 
abstinence  from  adultery  is  a  virtue,  it  would  be  a  pity  to  have 

210 


ARISTOTLE'S  POLITICS 

a  social  system  which  abolishes  this  virtue  and  the  correlative 
vice  (1263*).  Then  we  are  asked:  if  women  are  common,  who 
will  manage  the  house  ?  I  wrote  an  essay  once,  called  "Architecture 
and  the  Social  System,"  in  which  I  pointed  out  that  all  who 
combine  communism  with  abolition  of  the  family  also  advocate 
communal  houses  for  large  numbers,  with  communal  kitchens, 
dining-rooms,  and  nurseries.  This  system  may  be  described  as 
monasteries  without  celibacy.  It  is  essential  to  the  carrying  out  of 
Plato's  plans,  but  it  is  certainly  not  more  impossible  than  many 
other  things  that  he  recommends. 

Plato's  communism  annoys  Aristotle.  It  would  lead,  he  says, 
to  anger  against  lazy  people,  and  to  the  sort  of  quarrels  that  are 
common  between  fellow-travellers.  It  is  better  if  each  minds  his 
own  business.  Property  should  be  private,  but  people  should  be 
so  trained  in  benevolence  as  to  allow  the  use  of  it  to  be  largely 
common.  Benevolence  and  generosity  are  virtues,  and  without 
pr  vate  property  they  are  impossible.  Finally  we  are  told  that,  if 
Plato's  plans  were  good,  someone  would  have  thought  of  them 
sooner.1  I  do  not  agree  with  Plato,  but  if  anything  could  make 
me  do  so,  it  would  be  Aristotle's  arguments  against  him. 

As  we  have  seen  in  connection  with  slavery,  Aristotle  is  no 
Miever  in  equality.  Granted,  however,  the  subjection  of  slaves 
and  women,  it  still  remains  a  question  whether  all  citizens  should 
be  politically  equal.  Some  men,  he  says,  think  this  desirable,  on 
the  ground  that  all  revolutions  turn  on  the  regulation  of  property, 
lie  rejects  this  argument,  maintaining  that  the  greatest  crimes 
are  due  to  excess  rather  than  want ;  no  man  becomes  a  tyrant  in 
order  to  avoid  feeling  the  cold. 

A  government  is  good  when  it  aims  at  the  good  of  the  whole 
community,  bad  when  it  cares  only  for  itself.  There  are  three  kinds 
of  government  that  are  good:  monarchy,  aristocracy,  and  consti- 
tutional government  (or  polity);  there  are  three  that  are  bad: 
tyranny,  oligarchy,  and  democracy.  There  are  also  many  mixed 
intermediate  forms.  It  will  be  observed  that  the  good  and  bad 
governments  are  defined  by  the  ethical  qualities  of  the  holders  of 
power,  not  by  the  form  of  the  constitution.  This,  however,  is 

1  Ct.  Tlit  Noodle's  Oration  in  Sydney  Smith;  "If  the  proposal  be 
bound,  would  the  Saxon  have  passed  it  by  ?  Would  the  Dane  have  ignored 
it?  Would  it  have  escaped  the  wisdom  of  the  Norman?"  (I  quote  from 
memory. ) 

211 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL    THOUGHT 

only  partly  true.  An  aristocracy  is  a  rule  of  men  of  virtue,  an 
oligarchy  is  a  rule  of  the  rich,  and  Aristotle  does  not  consider 
virtue  and  wealth  strictly  synonymous.  What  he  holds,  in  accord- 
ance with  the  doctrine  of  the  golden  mean,  is  that  a  moderate 
competence  is  most  likely  to  be  associated  with  virtue:  "Mankind 
do  not  acquire  or  preserve  virtue  by  the  help  of  external  goods, 
but  external  goods  by  the  help  of  virtue,  and  happiness,  whether 
consisting  in  pleasure  or  virtue,  or  both,  is  more  often  found 
with  those  who  are  most  highly  cultivated  in  their  mind  and  in 
their  character,  and  have  only  a  moderate  share  of  external  poods, 
than  among  those  who  possess  external  goods  to  a  useless  extent 
but  are  deficient  in  higher  qualities*'  (1323*  and  ')-  There  is 
therefore  a  difference  between  the  rule  of  the  best  (aristocracy) 
and  of  the  richest  (oligarchy),  since  the  best  are  likely  to  have 
only  moderate  fortunes.  There  is  also  a  difference  between  demo- 
cracy and  polity,  in  addition  to  the  ethical  difference  in  the  govern- 
ment, for  what  Aristotle  calls  "polity"  retains  some  oligarchic 
elements  (1293*).  But  between  monarchy  and  tyranny  the  only 
difference  is  ethical. 

He  is  emphatic  in  distinguishing  oligarchy  and  democracy  by 
the  economic  status  of  the  governing  party:  there  is  oligarchy 
when  the  rich  govern  without  consideration  for  the  poor,  demo- 
cracy when  power  is  in  the  hands  of  the  needy  and  they  disregard 
the  interest  of  the  rich. 

Monarchy  is  better  than  aristocracy,  aristocracy  is  better  than 
polity.  But  the  corruption  of  the  best  is  worst ;  therefore  tyranny 
is  worse  than  oligarchy,  and  oligarchy  than  democracy.  In  this 
way  Aristotle  arrives  at  a  qualified  defence  of  democracy;  for 
most  Actual  governments  are  bad,  and  therefore,  among  actual 
governments,  democracies  tend  to  be  best. 

The  Greek  conception  of  democracy  was  in  many  ways  more 
extreme  than  ours;  for  instance,  Aristotle  says  that  to  elect  magis- 
trates is  oligarchic,  while  it  is  democratic  to  appoint  them  by  lot. 
In  extreme  democracies,  the  assembly  of  the  citizens  was  above  the 
law,  and  decided  each  question  independently.  The  Athenian 
law-courts  were  composed  of  a  large  number  of  citizens  chosen 
by  lot,  unaided  by  any  jurist ;  they  were,  of  course,  liable  to  be 
swayed  by  eloquence  or  party  passion.  When  democracy  is 
criticized,  it  must  be  understood  that  this  sort  of  thing  is 
meant. 

212 


ARISTOTLE'S    POLITICS 

There  is  a  long  discussion  of  causes  of  revolution.  In  Greece, 
revolutions  were  as  frequent  as  formerly  in  Latin  America,  and 
therefore  Aristotle  had  a  copious  experience  from  which  to  draw 
inferences.  The  main  cause  was  the  conflict  of  oligarchs  and 
democrats.  Democracy,  Aristotle  says,  arises  from  the  belief  that 
men  who  are  equally  free  should  be  equal  in  all  respects;  oligarchy, 
from  the  fact  that  men  who  are  superior  in  some  respect  claim 
too  much.  Both  have  a  kind  of  justice,  but  not  the  best  kind. 
"Therefore  both  parties,  whenever  their  share  in  the  government 
does  not  accord  with  their  preconceived  ideas,  stir  up  revolution" 
(1301*).  Democratic  governments  are  less  liable  to  revolutions 
than  oligarchies,  because  oligarchs  may  fall  out  with  each  other. 
The  oligarchs  seem  to  have  been  vigorous  fellows.  In  some  cities, 
we  are  told,  they  swore  an  oath :  "I  will  be  an  enemy  to  the  people, 
and  will  devise  all  the  harm  against  them  which  I  can."  Nowadays 
reactionaries  are  not  so  frank. 

The  three  things  needed  to  prevent  revolution  are  government 
propaganda  in  education,  respect  for  law,  even  in  small  things, 
and  justice  in  law  and  administration,  i.e.,  "equality  according 
to  proportion,  and  for  every  man  to  enjoy  his  own"  (1307*, 
I3°7b^  *310*)'  Aristotle  never  seems  to  have  realized  the  difficulty 
of  "equality  according  to  proportion."  If  this  is  to  be  true  justice, 
the  proportion  must  be  of  virtue.  Now  virtue  is  difficult  to  measure, 
and  is  a  matter  of  party  controversy.  In  political  practice,  therefore, 
virtue  tends  to  be  measured  by  income;  the  distinction  between 
aristocracy  and  oligarchy,  which  Aristotle  attempts  to  make,  is 
only  possible  where  there  is  a  very  well-established  hereditary 
nobility.  Even  then,  as  soon  as  there  exists  a  large  class  of  rich 
men  who  are  not  noble,  they  have  to  be  admitted  to  power  for 
fear  of  their  making  a  revolution.  Hereditary  aristocracies  cannot 
long  retain  their  power  except  where  land  is  almost  the  only 
source  of  wealth.  All  social  inequality,  in  the  long  run,  is  inequality 
of  income.  That  is  part  of  the  argument  for  democracy:  that  the 
attempt  to  have  a  "proportionate  justice"  based  on  any  merit 
other  than  wealth  is  sure  to  break  down.  Defenders  of  oligarchy 
pretend  that  income  is  proportional  to  virtue;  the  prophet  said 
he  had  never  seen  a  righteous  man  begging  his  bread,  and  Aristotle 
thinks  that  good  men  acquire  just  about  his  own  income,  neither 
very  large  nor  very  small.  But  such  views  are  absurd.  Eveiy  kind 
of  4 'justice"  other  than  absolute  equality  will,  in  practice,  reward 

"3 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

some  quality  quite  other  than  virtue,  and  is  therefore  to  be 
condemned. 

There  is  an  interesting  section  on  tyranny.  A  tyrant  desires 
riches,  whereas  a  king  desires  honour.  The  tyrant  has  guards  who 
are  mercenaries,  whereas  the  king  has  guards  who  are  citizens. 
Tyrants  are  mostly  demagogues,  who  acquire  power  by  promising 
to  protect  the  people  against  the  notables.  In  an  ironically  Machia- 
vellian tone,  Aristotle  explains  what  a  tyrant  must  do  to  retain 
power.  He  must  prevent  the  rise  of  any  person  of  exceptional 
merit,  by  execution  or  assassination  if  necessary.  He  must  prohibit 
common  meals,  clubs,  and  any  education  likely  to  produce  hostile 
sentiment.  There  must  be  no  literary  assemblies  or  discussions. 
He  must  prevent  people  from  knowing  each  other  well,  and 
compel  them  to  live  in  public  at  his  gates.  He  should  employ 
spies,  like  the  female  detectives  at  Syracuse.  He  must  sow  quarrels, 
and  impoverish  his  subjects.  He  should  keep  them  occupied  in 
great  works,  as  the  king  of  Egypt  did  in  getting  the  pyramids 
built.  He  should  give  power  to  women  and  slaves,  to  make  them 
informers.  He  should  make  war,  in  order  that  his  subjects  may 
have  something  to  do  and  be  always  in  want  of  a  leader  (131 3' 
and  *). 

It  is  a  melancholy  reflection  that  this  passage  is,  of  the  whole 
book,  the  one  most  appropriate  to  the  present  day.  Aristotle 
concludes  that  there  is  no  wickedness  too  great  for  a  tyrant.  There- 
is,  however,  he  says,  another  method  of  preserving  a  tyranny, 
namely  by  moderation  and  by  seeming  religious.  There  is  no 
decision  as  to  which  method  is  likely  to  prove  the  more  successful. 

There  is  a  long  argument  to  prove  that  foreign  conquest  is  not 
the  end  of  the  State,  showing  that  many  people  took  the  imperialist 
view.  There  is,  it  is  true,  an  exception:  conquest  of  "natural 
slaves"  is  right  and  just.  This  would,  in  Aristotle's  view,  justify 
wars  against  barbarians,  but  not  against  Greeks,  for  no  Greeks 
are  '"natural  slaves."  In  general,  war  is  only  a  means,  not  an  end; 
a  city  in  an  isolated  situation,  where  conquest  is  not  possible, 
may  be  happy;  States  that  live  in  isolation  need  not  be  inactive. 
God  and  the  universe  are  active,  though  foreign  conquest  is 
impossible  for  them.  The  happiness  that  a  State  should  seek, 
therefore,  though  war  may  sometimes  be  a  necessary  means  to  it, 
should  not  be  war,  but  the  activities  of  peace. 

This  leads  to  the  question :  how  large  should  a  State  be  ?  Large 


ARISTOTLE'S  POLITICS 

cities,  we  are  told,  are  never  well  governed,  because  a  great  multi- 
tude cannot  be  orderly.  A  State  ought  to  be  large  enough  to  be 
more  or  less  self-sufficing,  but  not  too  large  for  constitutional 
government.  It  ought  to  be  small  enough  for  the  citizens  to  know 
each  other's  characters,  otherwise  right  will  not  be  done  in  elections 
and  law-suits.  The  territory  should  be  small  enough  to  be  surveyed 
in  its  entirety  from  a  hill-top.  We  are  told  both  that  it  should  be 
self-sufficient  (1326*)  and  that  it  should  have  an  export  and 
import  trade  (1327*),  which  seems  an  inconsistency. 

Men  who  work  for  their  living  should  not  be  admitted  to  citizen- 
ship. " Citizens  should  not  lead  the  life  of  mechanics  or  tradesmen, 
for  such  a  life  is  ignoble  and  inimical  to  virtue."  Nor  should  they 
be  husbandmen,  because  they  need  leisure.  The  citizens  should 
own  the  property,  but  the  husbandmen  should  be  slaves  of  a 
different  race  (1330°).  Northern  races,  we  are  told,  are  spirited; 
southern  races,  intelligent ;  therefore  slaves  should  be  of  southern 
races,  since  it  is  inconvenient  if  they  are  spirited.  The  Greeks 
alone  are  both  spirited  and  intelligent ;  they  are  better  governed 
than  barbarians,  and  if  united  could  rule  the  world  (1327*).  One 
might  have  expected  at  this  point  some  allusion  to  Alexander, 
but  there  is  none. 

With  regard  to  the  size  of  States,  Aristotle  makes,  on  a  different 
scale,  the  same  mistake  that  is  made  by  many  modern  liberals. 
A  State  must  be  able  to  defend  itself  in  war,  and  even,  if  any 
liberal  culture  is  to  survive,  to  defend  itself  without  very  great 
difficulty.  I  low  large  this  requires  a  State  to  be,  depends  upon  the 
technique  of  war  and  industry.  In  Aristotle's  day,  the  City  State 
was  obsolete  because  it  could  not  defend  itself  against  Macedonia. 
In  our  day,  Greece  as  a  whole,  including  Macedonia,  is  obsolete 
in  this  sense,  as  has  been  recently  proved.1  To  advocate  complete 
independence  for  Greece,  or  any  other  small  country,  is  now  as 
futile  as  to  advocate  complete  independence  for  a  single  city, 
whose  territory  can  be  seen  entire  from  an  eminence.  There  can 
be  no  true  independence  except  for  a  State  or  alliance  strong 
enough,  by  its  own  efforts,  to  repel  all  attempts  at  foreign  conquest. 
Nothing  smaller  than  America  and  the  British  Empire  combined 
will  satisfy  this  requirement;  and  perhaps  even  this  would  be 
too  small  a  unit. 

The  book,  which,  in  the  form  in  which  we  have  it,  appears  to 
1  Thh  was  written  in  May,  194". 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

be  unfinished,  ends  with  a  discussion  of  education.  Education, 
of  course,  is  only  for  children  who  are  going  to  be  citizens ;  slaves 
may  be  taught  useful  arts,  such  as  cooking,  but  these  are  no  part 
of  education.  The  citizen  should  be  moulded  to  the  form  of 
government  under  which  he  lives,  and  there  should  therefore  be 
differences  according  as  the  city  in  question  is  oligarchic  or 
democratic.  In  the  discussion,  however,  Aristotle  assumes  that 
the  citizens  will  all  have  a  share  of  political  power.  Children 
should  learn  what  is  useful  to  them,  but  not  vulgarizing;  for 
instance,  they  should  not  be  taught  any  skill  that  deforms  the 
body,  or  that  would  enable  them  to  earn  money.  They  should 
practise  athletics  in  moderation,  but  not  to  the  point  of  acquiring 
professional  skill;  the  boys  who  train  for  the  Olympic  games 
suffer  in  health,  as  is  shown  by  the  fact  that  those  who  have  been 
victors  as  boys  are  hardly  ever  victors  as  men.  Children  should 
learn  drawing,  in  order  to  appreciate  the  beauty  of  the  human 
form;  and  they  should  be  taught  to  appreciate  such  painting  and 
sculpture  as  expresses  moral  ideas.  They  may  learn  to  sing  and  to 
play  musical  instruments  enough  to  be  able  to  enjoy  music 
critically,  but  not  enough  to  be  skilled  performers ;  for  no  freeman 
would  play  or  sing  unless  drunk.  They  must  of  course,  learn  to 
read  and  write,  in  spite  of  the  usefulness  of  these  arts.  But  the 
purpose  of  education  is  "virtue,"  not  usefulness.  What  Aristotle 
means  by  "virtue"  he  has  told  us  in  the  Ethics,  to  which  this  book 
frequently  refers. 

Aristotle's  fundamental  assumptions,  in  his  Politics,  are  very 
different  from  those  of  any  modern  writer.  The  aim  of  the  State, 
in  his  view,  is  to  produce  cultured  gentlemen — men  who  combine 
the  aristocratic  mentality  with  love  of  learning  and  the  arts 
This  combination  existed,  in  its  highest  perfection,  in  the  Athens 
of  Pericles,  not  in  the  population  at  large,  but  among  the  well- 
to-do.  It  began  to  break  down  in  the  last  years  of  Pericles.  The 
populace,  who  had  no  culture,  turned  against  the  friends  of 
Pericles,  who  were  driven  to  defend  the  privileges  of  the  rich, 
by  treachery,  assassination,  illegal  despotism,  and  other  such 
not  very  gentlemanly  methods.  After  the  death  of  Socrates, 
the  bigotry  of  the  Athenian  democracy  diminished,  and  Athens 
remained  the  centre  of  ancient  culture,  but  political  power  went 
elsewhere.  Throughout  later  antiquity,  power  and  culture  were 
usually  separate:  power  was  in  the  hands  of  rough  soldiers, 

216 


ARISTOTLE'S  POLITICS 

culture  belonged  to  powerless  Greeks,  often  slaves.  This  is  only 
partially  true  of  Rome  in  its  great  days,  but  it  is  emphatically 
true  before  Cicero  and  after  Marcus  Aurelius.  After  the  barbarian 
invasion,  the  "gentlemen"  were  northern  barbarians,  the  men 
of  culture  subtle  southern  ecclesiastics.  This  state  of  affairs 
continued,  more  or  less,  until  the  Renaissance,  when  the  laity 
began  to  acquire  culture.  From  the  Renaissance  onwards,  the 
Creek  conception  of  government  by  cultured  gentlemen  gradually 
prevailed  more  and  more,  reaching  its  acme  in  the  eighteenth 
century. 

Various  forces  have  put  an  end  to  this  state  of  affairs.  First, 
democracy,  as  embodied  in  the  French  Revolution  and  its  after- 
math. The  cultured  gentlemen,  as  after  the  age  of  Pericles,  had 
to  defend  their  privileges  against  the  populace,  and  in  the  process 
ceased  to  he  either  gentlemen  or  cultured.  A  second  cause  was 
the  rise  of  industrialism,  with  a  scientific  technique  very  different 
from  traditional  culture.  A  third  cause  was  popular  education, 
which  conferred  the  power  to  read  and  write,  but  did  not  confer 
culture;  this  enabled  a  new  type  of  demagogue  to  practise  a  new 
type  of  propaganda,  as  seen  in  the  dictatorships. 

Both  for  good  and  evil,  therefore,  the  day  of  the  cultured 
gentleman  is  past. 


-21" 


Chapter  XXII 
ARISTOTLE'S   LOGIC 

ARISTOTLE'S  influence,  which  was  very  great  in  many 
different  fields,  was  greatest  of  all  in  logic.  In  late  antiquity, 
when  Plato  was  still  supreme  in  metaphysics,  Aristotle  was 
the  recognized  authority  in  logic,  and  he  retained  this  position 
throughout  the  Middle  Ages.  It  was  not  till  the  thirteenth  century 
that  Christian  philosophers  accorded  him  supremacy  in  the  field 
of  metaphysics.  This  supremacy  was  largely  lost  after  the  Renais- 
sance, but  his  supremacy  in  logic  survived.  Even  at  the  present 
day,  all  Catholic  teachers  of  philosophy  and  many  others  still 
obstinately  reject  the  discoveries  of  modern  logic,  and  adhere 
with  a  strange  tenacity  to  a  system  which  is  as  definitely  antiquated 
as  Ptolemaic  astronomy.  This  makes  it  difficult  to  do  historical 
justice  to  Aristotle.  His  present-day  influence  is  so  inimical  to 
clear  thinking  that  it  is  hard  to  remember  how  great  an  advance 
he  made  upon  all  his  predecessors  (including  Plato),  or  how 
admirable  his  logical  work  would  still  seem  if  it  had  been  a  stage 
in  a  continual  progress,  instead  of  being  (as  in  fact  it  was)  a  dead 
end,  followed  by  over  two  thousand  years  of  stagnation.  In  dealing 
with  the  predecessors  of  Aristotle,  it  is  not  necessary  to  remind 
the  reader  that  they  are  not  verbally  inspired;  one  can  therefore 
praise  them  for  their  ability  without  being  supposed  to  subscrilxr 
to  all  their  doctrines.  Aristotle,  on  the  contrary,  is  still,  especially 
in  logic,  a  battle-ground,  and  cannot  be  treated  in  a  purely  his- 
torical spirit. 

Aristotle's  most  important  work  in  logic  is  the  doctrine  of  the 
syllogism.  A  syllogism  is  an  argument  consisting  of  three  parts,  a 
major  premiss,  a  minor  premiss,  and  a  conclusion.  Syllogisms 
are  of  a  number  of  different  kinds,  each  of  which  has  a  name, 
given  by  the  scholastics.  The  most  familiar  ts  the  kind  called 
"Barbara": 

All  men  are  mortal  (Major  premiss). 
Socrates  is  a  man  (Minor  premiss). 
Therefore:  Socrates  is  mortal  (Conclusion) 

21* 


ARISTOTLE'S  LOGIC 

Or:  all  men  are  mortal. 

AH  Greeks  are  men. 

Therefore:  All  Greeks  are  mortal. 

(Aristotle  docs  not  distinguish  between  these  two  forms;  this,  as 
we  shall  sec  later,  is  a  mistake.) 

Other  forms  are:  No  fishes  are  rational,  oil  sharks  are  fishes, 
therefore  no  sharks  are  rational.  (This  is  called  "Celarent.") 

All  men  are  rational,  some  animals  are  men,  therefore  some 
animals  are  rational.  (This  is  called  "Darii.") 

No  Greeks  are  black,  some  men  are  Greeks,  therefore  some  men 
are  not  black.  (This  is  called  "Ferio.")  x 

These  four  make  up  the  "first  figure";  Aristotle  adds  a  second 
and  third  figure,  and  the  schoolmen  added  a  fourth.  It  is  *hown 
that  the  three  later  figures  can  be  reduced  to  the  first  by  various 
devices. 

There  are  some  inferences  that  can  be  made  from  a  single 
premiss.  From  "some  men  are  mortal"  we  can  infer  that  "some 
mortals  are  men."  According  to  Aristotle,  this  can  be  also  inferred 
from  "all  men  are  mortal."  From  "no  gods  are  mortal"  we  can 
infer  "no  mortals  are  gods,"  but  from  "some  men  are  not  Greeks" 
it  does  not  follow  that  "some  Greeks  are  not  men." 

Apart  from  such  inferences  as  the  above,  Aristotle  and  his 
followers  thought  that  all  deductive  inference,  when  strictly 
stated,  is  syllogistic.  By  setting  forth  all  the  valid  kinds  of  syllogism, 
and  setting  out  any  suggested  argument  in  syllogistic  form,  it 
should  therefore  be  possible  to  avoid  all  fallacies. 

This  system  was  the  beginning  of  formal  logic,  and,  as  such,  was 
both  important  and  admirable.  But  considered  as  the  end,  not  the 
beginning,  of  formal  logic,  it  is  open  to  three  kinds  of  criticism: 

(1)  Formal  defects  within  the  system  itself. 

(2)  Over-estimation  of  the  syllogism,  as  compared  to  other 
forms  of  deductive  argument. 

(3)  Over-estimation  of  deduction  as  a- form  of  argument. 
On  each  of  these  three,  something  must  be  said. 

(i)  Formal  defect*.  Ix?t  us  begin  with  the  two  statements 
"Socrates  is  a  man"  and  "all  Greeks  are  men."  It  is  necessary  to 
make  a  sharp  distinction  between  these  two,  which  is  not  done 
in  Aristotelian  logic.  The  statement  "all  Greeks  arc  men"  is 
commonly  interpreted  ss  implying  that  there  are  Greeks:  without 

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WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

this  implication,  some  of  Aristotle's  syllogisms  are  not  valid. 
Take  for  instance: 

"All  Greeks  are  men,  All  Greeks  are  white,  therefore  some 
men  are  white."  This  is  valid  if  there  are  Greeks,  but  not  otherwise. 
If  I  were  to  say : 

"All  golden  mountains  are  mountains,  all  golden  mountains 
are  golden,  therefore  some  mountains  are  golden,"  my  conclusion 
would  be  false,  though  in  some  sense  my  premisses  would  be 
true.  If  we  are  to  be  explicit,  we  must  therefore  divide  the  one 
statement  "all  Greeks  are  men"  into  two,  one  saying  "there  are 
Greeks,"  and  the  other  saying  "if  anything  is  a  Greek  it  is  a  man." 
The  latter  statement  is  purely  hypothetical,  and  does  not  imply 
that  there  are  Greeks. 

The  statement  "all  Greeks  are  men"  is  thus  much  more 
complex  in  form  than  the  statement  "Socrates  is  a  man." 
"Socrates  is  a  man"  has  "Socrates"  for  its  subject,  but  "all 
Greeks  are  men"  does  not  have  "all  Greeks"  for  its  subject, 
for  there  is  nothing  about  "all  Greeks"  either  in  the  statement 
"there  are  Greeks,"  or  in  the  statement  "if  anything  is  a  Greek  it 
is  a  man." 

This  purely  formal  error  was  a  source  of  errors  in  metaphysics 
and  theory  of  knowledge.  Consider  the  state  of  our  knowledge  in 
regard  to  the  two  propositions  "Socrates  is  mortal"  and  "all  men 
are  mortal."  In  order  to  know  the  truth  of  "Socrates  is  mortal," 
most  of  us  are  content  to  rely  upon  testimony ;  but  if  testimony 
is  to  be  reliable,  it  must  lead  us  back  to  some  one  who  knew 
Socrates  and  saw  him  dead.  The  one  perceived  fact — the  dead 
body  of  Socrates — together  with  the  knowledge  that  this  was 
called  "Socrates,"  was  enough  to  assure  us  of  the  mortality 
of  Socrates.  But  when  it  comes  to  "all  men  are  mortal,"  the 
matter  is  different.  The  question  of  our  knowledge  of  such 
general  propositions  is  a  very  difficult  one.  Sometimes  they  are 
merely  verbal:  "all  Greeks  are  men"  is  known  because  nothing 
is  called  "a  Greek"  unless  it  is  a  man.  Such  general  statements 
can  be  ascertained  from  the  dictionary ;  they  tell  us  nothing  about 
the  world  except  how  words  are  used.  But  "all  men  are  mortal" 
is  not  of  this  sort;  there  is  nothing  logically  self-contradictory 
about  an  immortal  man.  We  believe  the  proposition  on  the  basis 
of  induction,  because  there  is  no  well-authenticated  case  of  a 
man  living  more  than  (say)  150  years;  but  this  only  makes  the 

220 


ARISTOTLE'S  LOGIC 

proposition  probable,  not  certain.  It  cannot  be  certain  so  long  as 
living  men  exist. 

Metaphysical  errors  arose  through  supposing  that  "all  men"  is 
the  subject  of  "all  men  are  mortal"  in  the  same  sense  as  that  in 
which  "Socrates"  is  the  subject  of  "Socrates  is  mortal."  It  made 
it  possible  to  hold  that,  in  some  sense,  "all  men"  denotes  an  entity 
of  the  same  sort  as  that  denoted  by  "Socrates."  This  led  Aristotle 
to  say  that  in  a  sense  a  species  is  a  substance.  He  is  careful  to 
qualify  this  statement,  but  his  followers,  especially  Porphyry, 
showed  less  caution. 

Another  error  into  which  Aristotle  falls  through  this  mistake 
is  to  think  that  a  predicate  of  a  predicate  can  be  a  predicate  of 
the  original  subject.  If  I  say  "Socrates  is  Greek,  all  Greeks  are 
human,"  Aristotle  thinks  that  "human"  is  a  predicate  of  "Greek," 
while  "Greek"  is  a  predicate  of  "Socrates,"  and  obviously  "human" 
is  a  predicate  of  "Socrates."  But  in  fact  "human"  is  not  a  predicate 
of  "Greek."  The  distinction  between  names  and  predicates,  or 
in  metaphysical  language,  between  particulars  and  universals, 
is  thus  blurred,  with  disastrous  consequences  to  philosophy.  One 
of  the  resulting  confusions  was  to  suppose  that  a  class  with  only 
one  member  is  identical  with  that  one  member.  This  made  it 
impossible  to  have  a  correct  theory  of  the  number  one,  and  led 
to  endless  bad  metaphysics  about  unity. 

(2)  Over-estimation  of  tlie  syllogism.  The  syllogism  is  only  one 
kind  of  deductive  argument.  In  mathematics,  which  is  wholly 
deductive,  syllogisms  hardly  ever  occur.  Of  course,  it  would  be 
possible  to  re-write  mathematical  arguments  in  syllogistic  form, 
but  this  would  he  very  artificial  and  would  not  make  them  any 
more  cogent.  Take  arithmetic,  for  example.  If  I  buy  goods  worth 
1 6s.  3d.,  and  tender  a  £1  note  in  payment,  how  much  change 
is  due  to  me  ?  To  put  this  simple  sum  in  the  form  of  a  syllogism 
would  be  absurd,  and  would  tend  to  conceal  the  real  nature  of 
the  argument.  Again,  within  logic  there  are  non-syllogistic 
inferences  such  as:  "A  horse  is  an  animal,  therefore  a  horse's 
head  is  an  animal's  head."  Valid  syllogisms,  in  fact,  are  only 
some  among  valid  deductions,  and  have  no  logical  priority  over 
others.  The  attempt  to  give  pre-eminence  to  the  syllogism  in 
deduction  misled  philosophers  as  to  the  nature  of  mathematical 
reasoning.  Kant,  who  perceived  that  mathematics  is  not  syllogistic, 
inferred  that  it  uses  extra-logical  principles,  which,  however,  he 

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WESTERN  PHILOSOPHICAL  THOUGHT 

supposed  to  be  as  certain  as  those  of  logic.  He,  like  his  predecessors, 
though  in  a  different  way,  was  misled  by  respect  for  Aristotle. 

(3)  Over -estimation  of  deduction.  The  Greeks  in  general  attached 
more  importance  to  deduction  as  a  source  of  knowledge  than 
modern  philosophers  do.  In  this  respect,  Aristotle  was  less  at 
fault  than  Plato ;  he  repeatedly  admitted  the  importance  of  induc- 
tion, and  he  devoted  considerable  attention  to  the  question :  how 
do  we  know  the  first  premisses  from  which  deduction  must  start  ? 
Nevertheless,  he,  like  other  Greeks,  gave  undue  prominence  to 
deduction  in  his  theory  of  knowledge.  We  shall  agree  that  Mr. 
Smith  (say)  is  mortal,  and  we  may,  loosely,  say  that  we  know  this 
because  we  know  that  all  men  are  mortal.  But  what  we  really 
know  is  not  "all  men  are  mortal";  we  know  mther  something 
like  "all  men  born  more  than  one  hundred  and  fifty  years  ago  are 
mortal,  and  so  are  almost  all  men  born  more  than  one  hundred 
years  ago."  This  is  our  reason  for  thinking  that  Mr.  Smith  will 
die.  But  this  argument  is  an  induction,  not  a  deduction.  It  has 
less  cogency  than  a  deduction,  and  yields  only  a  probability,  not 
a  certainty;  but  on  the  other  hand  it  gives  new  knowledge,  which 
deduction  does  not.  All  the  important  inferences  outside  logic  and 
pure  mathematics  are  inductive,  not  deductive;  the  only  excep- 
tions are  law  and  theology,  each  of  which  derives  its  first  prin- 
ciples from  an  unquestionable  text,  viz.  the  statute  hooks  01  the 
scriptures. 

Apart  from  The  Prior  Analytics,  which  deals  with  the  syllogism 
there  are  other  logical  writings  of  Aristotle  which  have  con- 
siderable importance  in  the  history  of  philosophy.  One  of  these 
is  the  short  work  on  The  Categories.  Porphyry  the  Neoplatonist 
wrote  a  commentary  on  this  book,  which  had  a  very  notable 
influence  on  medieval  philosophy;  but  for  the  present  let  us 
ignore  Porphyry  and  confine  ourselves  to  Aristotle. 

What,  exactly,  is  meant  by  the  word  "category/*  whether  in 
Aristotle  or  in  Kant  and  Hegel,  I  must  confess  that  I  have  never 
been  able  to  understand.  I  do  not  myself  believe  that  the  term 
"category"  is  in  any  way  useful  in  philosophy,  as  representing 
any  clear  idea.  There  are,  in  Aristotle,  ten  categories:  substance, 
quantity,  quality,  relation,  place,  time,  position,  state,  action, 
and  affection.  The  only  definition  offered  of  the  term  "category " 
is:  "expressions  which  are  in  no  way  composite  signify" — and 
then  follows  the  above  list.  This  seems  to  mean  that  every  word 

222 


ARISTOTLE'S  LOGIC 

of  which  the  meaning  is  not  compounded  of  the  meanings  of 
other  words  signifies  a  substance  or  a  quantity  or  etc.  There  is 
no  suggestion  of  any  principle  on  which  the  list  of  ten  categories 
has  been  compiled. 

"Substance"  is  primarily  what  is  not  predicable  of  a  subject  nor 
present  in  a  subject.  A  thing  is  said  to  be  "present  in  a  subject" 
when,  though  not  a  part  of  the  subject,  it  cannot  exist  without 
the  subject.  The  instances  given  are  a  piece  of  grammatical 
knowledge  which  is  present  in  a  mind,  and  a  certain  whiteness 
which  may  be  present  in  a  body.  A  substance  in  the  above  primary 
sense  is  an  individual  thing  or  person  or  animal.  But  in  a  secondary 
sense  a  species  or  a  genus — e.g.  "man"  or  "animal" — may  be 
called  a  substance.  This  secondary  sense  seems  indefensible, 
and  opened  the  door,  in  later  writers,  to  much  bad  metaphysics. 

The  Posterior  Analytics  is  a  work  largely  concerned  with  a 
question  which  must  trouble  any  deductive  theory,  namely:  How 
are  first  premisses  obtained?  Since  deduction  must  start  from 
somewhere,  we  must  begin  with  something  unproved,  which 
must  be  known  otherwise  than  by  demonstration.  I  shall  not  give 
Aristotle's  theory  in  detail,  since  it  depends  upon  the  notion  of 
essence.  A  definition,  he  says,  is  a  statement  of  a  thing's  essential 
nature.  The  notion  of  essence  is  an  intimate  part  of  every  philo- 
sophy subsequent  to  Aristotle,  until  we  come  to  modern  times. 
It  is,  in  my  opinion,  a  hopelessly  muddle-headed  notion,  but  its 
historical  importance  requires  us  to  say  something  about  it. 

The  "essence"  of  a  thing  appears  to  have  meant  "those  of  its 
properties  which  it  cannot  change  without  losing  its  identity." 
Socrates  may  be  sometimes  happy,  sometimes  sad;  sometimes 
well,  sometimes  ill.  Since  he  can  change  these  properties  without 
ceasing  to  be  Socrates,  they  are  no  part  of  his  essence.  But  it  is 
supposed  to  be  of  the  essence  of  Socrates  that  he  is  a  man,  though 
a  Pythagorean,  who  believes  in  transmigration,  will  not  admit 
this.  In  fact,  the  question  of  "essence"  is  one  as  to  the  use  of 
words.  We  apply  the  same  name,  on  different  occasions,  to 
somewhat  different  occurrences,  which  .we  regard  as  manifesta- 
tions of  a  single  "thing"  or  "person."  In  fact,  however,  this  is 
only  a  verbal  convenience.  The  "essence"  of  Socrates  thus  consists 
of  those  properties  in  the  absence  of  which  we  should  not  use  the 
name  "Socrates."  The  question  is  purely  linguistic:  a  word  may 
have  an  essence,  but  a  thing  cannot. 

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WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

The  conception  of  "substance,"  like  that  of  "essence,11  is  a 
transference  to  metaphysics  of  what  is  only  a  linguistic  convenience. 
We  find  it  convenient,  in  describing  the  world,  to  describe  a 
certain  number  of  occurrences  as  events  in  the  life  of  "Socrates," 
and  a  certain  number  of  others  as  events  in  the  life  of  "Mr.  Smith." 
This  leads  us  to  think  of  "Socrates"  or  "Mr.  Smith"  as  denoting 
something  that  persists  through  a  certain  number  of  years,  and 
as  in  some  way  more  "solid"  and  "real"  than  the  events  that 
happen  to  him.  If  Socrates  is  ill,  we  think  that  Socrates,  at  other 
times,  is  well,  and  therefore  the  being  of  Socrates  is  independent 
of  his  illness;  illness,  on  the  other  hand,  requires  somebody  to 
be  ill.  But  although  Socrates  need  not  be  ill,  something  must  be 
occurring  to  him  if  he  is  to  be  considered  to  exist.  He  is  not, 
therefore,  really  any  more  "solid"  than  the  things  that  happen 
to  him. 

"Substance,"  when  taken  seriously,  is  a  concept  impossible  to 
free  from  difficulties.  A  substance  is  supposed  to  be  the  subject 
of  properties,  and  to  be  something  distinct  from  all  its  properties. 
But  when  we  take  away  the  properties,  and  try  to  imagine  the 
substance  by  itself,  we  find  that  there  is  nothing  left.  To  put  the 
matter  in  another  way:  What  distinguishes  one  substance  from 
another?  Not  difference  of  properties,  for,  according  to  the  logic 
of  substance,  difference  of  properties  presupposes  numerical 
diversity  between  the  substances  concerned.  Two  substances, 
therefore,  must  be  just  two,  without  being,  in  themselves,  in  any 
way  distinguishable.  How,  then,  are  we  ever  to  find  out  that 
they  are  two  ? 

"Substance,"  in  fact,  is  merely  a  convenient  way  of  collecting 
events  into  bundles.  What  can  we  know  about  Mr.  Smith?  When 
we  look  at  him,  we  see  a  pattern  of  colours ;  when  we  listen  to  him 
talking,  we  hear  a  series  of  sounds.  We  believe  that,  like  us,  he  has 
thoughts  and  feelings.  But  what  is  Mr.  Smith  apart  from  all  these 
occurrences?  A  mere  imaginary  hook,  from  which  the  occurrences 
are  supposed  to  hang.  They  have  in  fact  no  need  of  a  hook,  any 
more  than  the  earth  needs  an  elephant  to  rest  upon.  Any  one 
can  see,  in  the  analogous  case  of  a  geographical  region,  that  such 
a  word  as  "France"  (say)  is  only  a  linguistic  convenience,  and  that 
there  is  not  a  thing  called  "France"  over  and  above  its  various 
parts.  The  same  holds  of  "Mr.  Smith";  it  is  a  collective  name 
for  a  number  of  occurrences.  If  we  take  it  as  anything  more,  it 

224 


ARISTOTLE'S  LOGIC 

denotes  something  completely  unknowable,  and  therefore  not 
needed  for  the  expression  of  what  we  know. 

"Substance,"  in  a  word,  is  a  metaphysical  mistake,  due  to 
transference  to  the  world-structure  of  the  structure  of  sentences 
composed  of  a  subject  and  a  predicate. 

I  conclude  that  the  Aristotelian  doctrines  with  which  we  have 
been  concerned  in  this  chapter  are  wholly  false,  with  the  exception 
of  the  formal  theory  of  the  syllogism,  which  is  unimportant. 
Any  person  in  the  present  day  who  wishes  to  learn  logic  will  be 
wasting  his  time  if  he  reads  Aristotle  or  any  of  his  disciples. 
None  the  less,  Aristotle's  logical  writings  show  great  ability,  and 
would  have  been  useful  to  mankind  if  they  had  appeared  at  a 
time  when  intellectual  originality  was  still  active.  Unfortunately, 
they  appeared  at  the  very  end  of  the  creative  period  of  Greek 
thought,  and  therefore  came  to  be  accepted  as  authoritative. 
By  the  time  that  logical  originality  revived,  a  reign  of  two  thousand 
years  had  made  Aristotle  very  difficult  to  dethrone.  Throughout 
modern  times,  practically  every  advance  in  science,  in  logic,  or 
in  philosophy  has  had  to  be  made  in  the  teeth  of  opposition  from 
Aristotle's  disciples. 


H 


Chapter  XXIII 
ARISTOTLE'S    PHYSICS 

IN  tiiis  chapter  I  propose  to  consider  two  of  Aristotle's  books, 
the  one  called  Physics  and  the  one  called  On  the  Heavens. 
These  two  books  are  closely  connected;  the  second  takes  up 
the  argument  at  the  point  at  which  the  first  has  left  it.  Both  were 
extremely  influential,  and  dominated  science  until  the  time  of 
Galileo.  Words  such  as  "quintessence"  and  "sublunary"  are 
derived  from  the  theories  expressed  in  these  books.  The  historian 
of  philosophy,  accordingly,  must  study  them,  in  spite  of  the  fact 
that  hardly  a  sentence  in  either  can  be  accepted  in  the  light  of 
modern  science. 

To  understand  the  views  of  Aristotle,  as  of  most  Greeks,  on 
physics,  it  is  necessary  to  apprehend  their  imaginative  back- 
ground. Every  philosopher,  in  addition  to  the  formal  system  which 
he  offers  to  the  world,  has  another,  much  simpler,  of  which  he 
may  be  quite  unaware.  If  he  is  aware  of  it,  he  probably  realizes 
that  it  won't  quite  do;  he  therefore  conceals  it,  and  sets  forth 
something  more  sophisticated,  which  he  believes  because  it  is 
like  his  crude  system,  but  which  he  asks  others  to  accept  because 
he  thinks  he  has  made  it  such  as  cannot  be  disproved.  The 
sophistication  comes  in  by  way  of  refutation  of  refutations,  but 
this  alone  will  never  give  a  positive  result:  it  shows,  at  best, 
that  a  theory  may  be  true,  not  that  it  must  be.  The  positive  result, 
however  little  the  philosopher  may  realize  it,  is  due  to  his  imagina- 
tive preconceptions,  or  to  what  Santayana  calls  "animal  faith." 

In  relation  to  physics,  Aristotle's  imaginative  background  was 
very  different  from  that  of  a  modern  student.  Nowadays,  a  boy 
begins  with  mechanics,  which,  by  its  very  name,  suggests  machines. 
He  is  accustomed  to  motor-cars  and  aeroplanes;  he  docs  not, 
even  in  the  dimmest  recesses  of  his  subconscious  imagination, 
think  that  a  motor-car  contains  some  sort  of  horse  in  its  inside, 
or  that  an  aeroplane  flies  because  its  wings  are  those  of  a  bird 
possessing  magical  powers.  Animals  have  lost  their  importance 
in  our  imaginative  pictures  of  the  world,  in  which  man  stands 
comparatively  alone  as  master  of  a  mainly  lifeless  and  largely 
subservient  material  environment. 

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ARISTOTLE'S    PHYSICS 

To  the  Greek,  attempting  to  give  a  scientific  account  of  motion, 
the  purely  mechanical  view  hardly  suggested  itself,  except  in  the 
case  of  a  few  men  of  genius  such  as  Democritus  and  Archimedes. 
Two  sets  of  phenomena  seemed  important:  the  movements  of 
animals,  and  the  movements  of  the  heavenly  bodies.  To  the 
modern  man  of  science,  the  body  of  an  animal  is  a  very  elaborate 
machine,  with  an  enormously  complex  physico-chemical  structure; 
every  new  discovery  consists  in  diminishing  the  apparent  gulf 
between  animals  and  machines.  To  the  Greek,  it  seemed  more 
natural  to  assimilate  apparently  lifeless  motions  to  those  of  animals. 
A  child  still  distinguishes  live  animals  from  other  things  by  the 
fact  that  they  can  move  of  themselves;  to  many  Greeks,  and 
especially  to  Aristotle,  this  peculiarity  suggested  itself  as  the  basis 
of  a  general  theory  of  physics. 

But  how  about  the  heavenly  bodies?  They  differ  from  animals 
by  the  regularity  of  their  movements,  but  this  may  be  only  due 
to  their  superior  perfection.  Every  Greek  philosopher,  whatever 
he  may  have  come  to  think  in  adult  life,  had  been  taught  in  child- 
hood to  regard  the  sun  and  moon  as  gods;  Anaxagoras  was 
prosecuted  for  impiety  because  he  thought  that  they  were  not 
alive.  It  was  natural  that  a  philosopher  who  could  no  longer 
regard  the  heavenly  bodies  themselves  as  divine  should  think  of 
them  as  moved  by  the  will  of  a  Divine  Being  who  had  a  Hellenic 
love  of  order  and  geometrical  simplicity.  Thus  the  ultimate 
source  of  all  movement  is  Will:  on  earth  the  capricious  Will  of 
human  beings  and  animals,  but  in  heaven  the  unchanging  Will 
of  the  Supreme  Artificer. 

I  do  not  suggest  that  this  applies  to  every  detail  of  what  Aristotle 
has  to  say.  What  I  do  suggest  is  that  it  gives  his  imaginative  back- 
ground, and  represents  the  sort  of  thing  which,  in  embarking  on 
liis  investigations,  he  would  expect  to  find  true. 

After  these  preliminaries,  let  us  examine  what  it  is  that  he 
actually  says. 

Physics,  in  Aristotle,  is  the  science  of  what  the  Greeks  called 
"phusis"  (or  Mphysis")t  a  word  which  is  translated  'nature," 
but  has  not  exactly  the  meaning  which  we  attach  to  that  word. 
We  still  speak  of  "natural  science"  and  "natural  history,"  but 
"nature"  by  itself,  though  it  is  a  very  ambiguous  word,  seldom 
means  just  what  "phusis"  meant.  "Phusis"  had  to  do  with  growth ; 
one  might  sav  it  is  the  "nature"  of  an  acorn  to  grow  into  an  oak, 

227 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

and  in  that  case  one  would  be  using  the  word  in  the  Aristotelian 
sense.  The  "nature"  of  .a  thing,  Aristotle  says,  is  its  end,  that  for 
the  sake  of  which  it  exists.  Thus  the  word  has  a  ideological 
implication.  Some  things  exist  by  nature,  some  from  other  causes. 
Animals,  plants,  and  simple  bodies  (elements)  exist  by  nature; 
they  have  an  internal  principle  of  motion  (the  word  translated 
"motion"  or  "movement"  has  a  wider  meaning  than  "loco- 
motion" ;  in  addition  to  locomotion  it  includes  change  of  quality 
or  of  size.)  Nature  is  a  source  of  being  moved  or  at  rest.  Things 
"have  a  nature"  if  they  have  an  internal  principle  of  this  kind. 
The  phrase  "according  to  nature"  applies  to  these  things  and  their 
essential  attributes.  (It  was  through  this  point  of  view  that 
"unnatural"  came  to  express  blame.)  Nature  is  in  form  rather 
than  in  matter;  what  is  potentially  flesh  or  bone  has  not 
yet  acquired  its  own  nature,  and  a  thing  is  more  what  it  is 
when  it  has  attained  to  fulfilment.  This  whole  point  of  view 
seems  to  be  suggested  by  biology:  the  acorn  is  "potentially" 
an  oak. 

Nature  belongs  to  the  class  of  causes  which  operate  for  the  sake 
of  something.  This  leads  to  a  discussion  of  the  view  that  nature 
works  of  necessity,  without  purpose,  in  connection  with  which 
Aristotle  discusses  the  survival  of  the  fittest,  in  the  form  taught 
by  Empedocles.  This  cannot  be  right,  he  says,  because  things 
happen  in  fixed  ways,  and  when  a  series  has  a  completion,  all 
preceding  steps  are  for  its  sake.  Those  things  are  "natural"  which 
"by  a  continuous  movement,  originated  from  an  internal  principle, 
arrive  at  some  completion"  (199*). 

This  whole  conception  of  "nature,"  though  it  might  well  seem 
admirably  suited  to  explain  the  growth  of  animals  and  plants, 
became,  in  the  event,  a  great  obstacle  to  the  progress  of  science, 
and  a  source  of  much  that  was  bad  in  ethics.  In  the  latter  respect, 
it  is  still  harmful. 

Motion,  we  are  told,  is  the  fulfilling  of  what  exists  potentially. 
This  view,  apart  from  other  defects,  is  incompatible  with  the 
relativity  of  locomotion.  When  A  moves  relatively  to  B,  B  moves 
relatively  to  A,  and  there  is  no  sense  in  saying  that  one  of  the  two 
is  in  motion  while  the  other  is  at  rest.  When  a  dog  seizes  a  bone, 
it  seems  to  common  sense  that  the  dog  moves  while  the  bone 
remains  at  rest  (until  seized),  and  that  the  motion  has  a  purpose, 
namely  to  fulfil  the  dog's  "nature."  But  it  has  turned  out  that  this 

228 


ARISTOTLE'S  PHYSICS 

point  of  view  cannot  be  applied  to  dead  matter,  and  that,  for  the 
purposes  of  scientific  physics,  no  conception  of  an  "end"  is  useful, 
nor  can  any  motion,  in  scientific  strictness,  be  treated  as  other 
than  relative. 

Aristotle  rejects  the  void,  as  maintained  by  Leucippus  and 
Democritus.  He  then  passes  on  to  a  rather  curious  discussion  of 
time.  It  might,  he  says,  be  maintained  that  time  does  not  exist, 
since  it  is  composed  of  past  and  future,  of  which  one  no  longer 
exists  while  the  other  does  not  yet  exist.  This  view,  however,  he 
rejects.  Time,  he  says,  is  motion  that  admits  of  numeration.  (It  is 
not  clear  why  he  thinks  numeration  essential.)  We  may  fairly  ask, 
he  continues,  whether  time  could  exist  without  the  soul,  since  there 
cannot  be  anything  to  count  unless  there  is  someone  to  count, 
and  time  involves  numeration.  It  seems  that  he  thinks  of  time  as 
so  many  hours  or  days  or  years.  Some  things,  he  adds,  are  eternal, 
in  the  sense  of  not  being  in  time ;  presumably  he  is  thinking  of 
such  things  as  numbers. 

There  always  has  been  motion,  and  there  always  will  be;  for 
there  cannot  be  time  without  motion,  and  all  are  agreed  that  time 
is  uncreated,  except  Plato.  On  this  point,  Christian  followers  of 
Aristotle  were  obliged  to  dissent  from  him,  since  the  Bible  tells 
us  that  the  universe  had  a  beginning. 

The  Physics  ends  with  the  argument  for  an  unmoved  mover, 
which  we  considered  in  connection  with  the  Metaphysics.  There 
is  one  unmoved  mover,  which  directly  causes  a  circular  motion. 
Circular  motion  is  the  primary  kind,  and  the  only  kind  which 
can  be  continuous  and  infinite.  The  first  mover  has  no  parts  or 
magnitude  and  is  at  the  circumference  of  the  world. 

Having  reached  this  conclusion,  we  pass  on  to  the  heavens. 

The  treatise  On  tlit  Heavens  sets  forth  a  pleasant  and  simple 
theory.  Things  below  the  moon  are  subject  to  generation  and 
decay;  from  the  moon  upwards,  everything  is  ungenerated  and 
indestnictible.The  earth,  which  is  spherical,  is  at  the  centre  of  the 
universe.  In  the  sublunary  sphere,  everything  is  composed  of  the 
four  elements,  earth,  water,  air,  and  fire;  but  there  is  a  fifth  ele- 
ment, of  which  the  heavenly  bodies  are  composed.  The  natural 
movement  of  the  terrestrial  elements  is  rectilinear,  but  that  of  the 
fifth  clement  is  circular.  The  heavens  are  perfectly  spherical,  and 
the  upper  regions  are  more  divine  than  the  lower.  The  stars  and 
planets  are  not  composed  of  fire,  hut  of  the  fifth  element;  their 

229 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

motion  is  due  to  that  of  spheres  to  which  they  are  attached. 
(All  this  appears  in  poetical  form  in  Dante's  Paradiso.) 

The  four  terrestrial  elements  are  not  eternal,  but  are  generated 
out  of  each  other — fire  is  absolutely  light,  in  the  sense  that  its 
natural  motion  is  upward ;  earth  is  absolutely  heavy.  Air  is  relatively 
light,  and  water  is  relatively  heavy. 

This  theory  provided  many  difficulties  for  later  ages.  Comets, 
which  were  recognized  as  destructible,  had  to  be  assigned  to  the 
sublunary  sphere,  but  in  the  seventeenth  century  it  was  found 
that  they  describe  orbits  round  the  sun,  and  are  very  seldom  as 
near  as  the  moon.  Since  the  natural  motion  of  terrestrial  bodies 
is  rectilinear,  it  was  held  that  a  projectile  fired  horizontally  will 
move  horizontally  for  a  time,  and  then  suddenly  begin  to  fall 
vertically.  Galileo's  discovery  that  a  projectile  moves  in  a  parabola 
shocked  his  Aristotelian  colleagues.  Copernicus,  Kepler,  and 
Galileo  had  to  combat  Aristotle  as  well  as  the  Bible  in  establishing 
the  view  that  the  earth  is  not  the  centre  of  the  universe,  but  rotates 
once  a  day  and  goes  round  the  sun  once  a  year. 

To  come  to  a  more  general  matter:  Aristotelian  physics  is  in- 
compatible with  Newton's  "First  Law  of  Motion,"  originally 
enunciated  by  Galileo.  This  law  states  that  every  body,  left  to 
itself,  mil,  if  already  in  motion,  continue  to  move  in  a  straight 
line  with  uniform  velocity.  Thus  outside  causes  are  required,  not 
to  account  for  motion,  but  to  account  for  change  of  motion,  either 
in  velocity  or  in  direction.  Circular  motion,  which  Aristotle 
thought  "natural"  for  the  heavenly  bodies,  involves  a  continual 
change  in  the  direction  of  motion,  and  therefore  requires  a  force 
directed  towards  the  centre  of  the  circle,  as  in  Newton's  law  of 
gravitation. 

Finally:  The  view  that  the  heavenly  bodies  are  eternal  and  in- 
corruptible has  had  to  be  abandoned.  The  sun  and  stars  have  long 
lives,  but  do  not  live  for  ever.  They  are  born  from  a  nebula,  and 
in  the  end  they  either  explode  or  die  of  cold.  Nothing  in  the  visible 
world  is  exempt  from  change  and  decay;  the  Aristotelian  belief 
to  the  contrary,  though  accepted  by  medieval  Christians,  is  a 
product  of  the  pagan  worship  of  sun  and  moon  and  planets. 


230 


Chapter  XXIV 
EARLY   GREEK   MATHEMATICS   AND   ASTRONOMY 

I  AM  concerned  in  this  chapter  with  mathematics,  not  on  its 
own  account,  but  as  it  was  related  to  Greek  philosophy — a 
relation  which,  especially  in  Plato,  was  very  close.  The  pre- 
eminence of  the  Greeks  appears  more  clearly  in  mathematics  and 
astronomy  than  in  anything  else.  What  they  did  in  art,  in  literature, 
and  in  philosophy,  may  be  judged  better  or  worse  according  to 
taste,  but  what  they  accomplished  in  geometry  is  wholly  beyond 
question.  They  derived  something  from  Egypt,  and  rather  less 
from  Babylonia;  but  what  they  obtained  from  these  sources  was, 
in  mathematics,  mainly  simple  rules,  and  in  astronomy  records 
of  observations  extended  over  very  long  periods.  The  art  of 
mathematical  demonstration  was,  almost  wholly,  Greek  in  origin. 
There  are  many  pleasant  stories,  probably  unhistorical,  showing 
what  practical  problems  stimulated  mathematical  investigations. 
The  earliest  and  simplest  relates  to  Thales,  who,  when  in  Egypt, 
was  asked  by  the  king  to  find  out  the  height  of  a  pyramid.  He 
waited  for  the  time  of  day  when  his  shadow  was  as  long  as  he  was 
tall ;  he  then  measured  the  shadow  of  the  pyramid,  which  was  of 
course  equal  to  its  height.  It  is  said  that  the  laws  of  perspective 
were  first  studied  by  the  geometer  Agatharcus,  in  order  to  paint 
scenery  for  the  plays  of  Aeschylus.  The  problem  of  finding  the 
distance  of  a  ship  at  sea,  which  was  said  to  have  been  studied  by 
Thales,  was  correctly  solved  at  an  early  stage.  One  of  the  great 
problems  that  occupied  Greek  geometers,  that  of  the  duplication 
of  the  cube,  originated,  we  are  told,  with  the  priests  of  a  certain 
temple,  who  were  informed  by  the  oracle  that  the  god  wanted  a 
statue  twice  as  large  as  the  one  they  had.  At  first  they  thought 
simply  of  doubling  all  the  dimensions  of  the  statue,  but  then  they 
realized  that  the  result  would  be  eight  times  as  large  as  the  ori- 
ginal, which  would  involve  more  expense  than  the  god  had 
demanded.  So  they  sent  a  deputation  to  Plato  to  ask  whether  any- 
body in  the  Academy  could  solve  their  problem.  The  geometers 
took  it  up,  and  worked  at  it  for  centuries,  producing,  incidentally, 
much  admirable  work.  The  problem  is,  of  course,  that  of  deter- 
mining the  cube  root  of  a. 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL    THOUGHT 

The  square  root  of  2,  which  was  the  first  irrational  to  be  dis- 
covered, was  known  to  the  early  Pythagoreans,  and  ingenious 
methods  of  approximating  to  its  value  were  discovered.  The  best 
was  as  follows:  Form  two  columns  of  numbers,  which  we  will 
call  the  <z's  and  the  6's;  each  starts  with  i.  The  next  a,  at  each 
stage,  is  formed  by  adding  the  last  a  and  b  already  obtained ;  the 
next  b  is  formed  by  adding  twice  the  previous  a  to  the  previous  b. 
The  first  6  pairs  so  obtained  are  (i  ,i),  (2, 3),  (5, 7),  (12, 17),  (29, 41), 

(70,  99).  In  each  pair,  20*  — -  6a  is  i  or  —  i.  Thus  -  is  nearly  the 

square  root  of  two,  and  at  each  fresh  step  it  gets  nearer.  For 
instance,  the  reader  may  satisfy  himself  that  the  square  of  99/70 
is  very  nearly  equal  to  2. 

Pythagoras — always  a  rather  misty  figure — is  described  by 
Proclus  as  the  first  who  made  geometry  a  liberal  education.  Many 
authorities,  including  Sir  Thomas  Heath,1  believe  that  he  probably 
discovered  the  theorem  that  bears  his  name,  to  the  effect  that,  in 
a  right-angled  triangle,  the  square  on  the  side  opposite  the  right 
angle  is  equal  to  the  sum  of  the  squares  on  the  other  two  sides. 
In  any  case,  this  theorem  was  known  to  the  Pythagoreans  at  a 
very  early  date.  They  knew  also  that  the  sum  of  the  angles  of  a 
triangle  is  two  right  angles. 

Irrationals  other  than  the  square  root  of  two  were  studied,  in 
particular  cases,  by  Theodorus,  a  contemporary  of  Socrates,  and 
in  a  more  general  way  by  Theaetetus,  who  was  roughly  contem- 
porary with  Plato,  but  somewhat  older.  Democritus  wrote  a 
treatise  on  irrationals,  but  very  little  is  known  as  to  its  contents. 
Plato  was  profoundly  interested  in  the  subject;  he  mentions  the 
work  of  Thcodorus  and  Theaetetus  in  the  dialogue  called  after 
the  latter.  In  the  Laws  (819-820),  he  says  that  the  general  ignorance 
on  this  subject  is  disgraceful,  and  implies  .that  he  himself  began 
to  know  about  it  rather  late  in  life.  It  had  of  course  an  important 
bearing  on  the  Pythagorean  philosophy. 

One  of  the  most  important  consequences  of  the  discovery  of 
irrationals  was  the  invention  of  the  geometrical  theory  of  propor- 
tion by  Eudoxus  (ca.  408 — ca.  355  B.C.).  Before  him,  there  was 
only  the  arithmetical  theory  of  proportion.  According  to  this 
theory*,  the  ratio  of  a  to  b  is  equal  to  the  ratio  of  c  to  d  if  a  times  d 

'  (jreek  Mathtmatia,  Vol.  I,  p.  145 

23* 


FARI'Y    GREEK    MATHEMATICS    AND    ASTRONOMY 

is  equal  to  b  times  c.  This  definition,  in  the  absence  of  an  arith- 
metical theory  of  irrationals,  is  only  applicable  to  rationals. 
Eudoxus,  however,  gave  a  new  definition  not  subject  to  this 
restriction,  framed  in  a  manner  which  suggests  the  methods  of 
modern  analysis.  The  theory  is  developed  in  Euclid,  and  has 
great  logical  beauty. 

Eudoxus  also  either  invented  or  perfected  the  "method  of  ex- 
haustion," which  was  subsequently  used  with  great  success  by 
Archimedes.  This  method  is  an  anticipation  of  the  integral  cal- 
culus. Take,  for  example,  the  question  of  the  area  of  a  circle.  You 
can  inscribe  in  a  circle  a  regular  hexagon,  or  a  regular  dodecagon, 
or  a  regular  polygon  of  a  thousand  or  a  million  sides.  The  area 
of  such  a  polygon,  however  many  sides  it  has,  is  proportional  to 
the  square  on  the  diameter  of  the  circle.  The  more  sides  the 
polygon  has,  the  more  nearly  it  becomes  equal  to  the  circle.  You 
can  prove  that,  if  you  give  the  polygon  enough  sides,  its  area  can 
be  got  to  differ  from  that  of  the  circle  by  less  than  any  previously 
assigned  area,  however  small.  For  this  purpose,  the  "axiom  of 
Archimedes"  is  used.  This  states  (when  somewhat  simplified) 
that  if  the  greater  of  two  quantities  is  halved,  and  then  the  half 
is  halved,  and  so  on,  a  quantity  will  be  reached,  at  last,  which  is 
less  than  the  smaller  of  the  original  two  quantities.  In  other  words, 
if  a  is  greater  than  A,  there  is  some  whole  number  n  such  that  2n 
times  b  is  greater  than  a. 

The  method  of  exhaustion  sometimes  leads  to  an  exact  result, 
as  in  squaring  the  parabola,  which  was  done  by  Archimedes ;  some- 
times, as  in  the  attempt  to  square  the  circle,  it  can  only  lead  to 
successive  approximations.  The  problem  of  squaring  the  circle  is 
the  problem  of  determining  the  ratio  of  the  circumference  of  a 
circle  to  the  diameter,  which  is  called  77.  Archimedes  used  the 
approximation  *f  in  calculations ;  by  inscribing  and  circumscribing 
a  regular  polygon  of  96  sides,  he  proved  that  TT  is  less  than  3^  and 
greater  than  3^  J.  The  method  could  be  carried  to  any  required 
degree  of  approximation,  and  that  is  all  that  any  method  can  do 
in  this  problem.  The  use  of  inscribed  and  circumscribed  polygons 
for  approximations  to  n  goes  back  to  Antiphon,  who  was  a 
contemporary  of  Socrates. 

Euclid,  who  was  still,  when  I  was  young,  the  sole  acknowledged 
text-book  of  geometry  for  boys,  lived  at  Alexandria,  about  300  B.C., 
a  few  years  after  the  death  of  Alexander  and  Aristotle.  Most  of 

233 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL  THOUGHT 

his  Elements  was  not  original,  but  the  order  of  propositions,  and 
the  logical  structure,  were  largely  his.  The  more  one  studies  geo- 
metry, the  more  admirable  these  are  seen  to  be.  The  treatment  of 
parallels  by  means  of  the  famous  postulate  of  parallels  has  the 
twofold  merit  of  rigour  in  deduction  and  of  not  concealing  the 
dubiousness  of  the  initial  assumption.  The  theory  of  proportion, 
which  follows  Eudoxus,  avoids  all  the  difficulties  connected  with 
irrationals,  by  methods  essentially  similar  to  those  introduced  by 
Weierstrass  into  nineteenth-century  analysis.  Euclid  then  passes 
on  to  a  kind  of  geometrical  algebra,  and  deals,  in  Book  X,  with  the 
subject  of  irrationals.  After  this  he  proceeds  to  solid  geometry, 
ending  with  the  construction  of  the  regular  solids,  which  had 
been  perfected  by  Theaetetus  and  assumed  in  Plato's  Timaeus. 

Euclid's  Elements  is  certainly  one  of  the  greatest  books  ever 
written,  and  one  of  the  most  perfect  monuments  of  the  Greek 
intellect.  It  has,  of  course,  the  typical  Greek  limitations:  the 
method  is  purely  deductive,  and  there  is  no  way,  within  it,  of 
testing  the  initial  assumptions.  These  assumptions  were  supposed 
to  be  unquestionable,  but  in  the  nineteenth  century  non-Euclidean 
geometry  showed  that  they  might  be  in  part  mistaken,  and  that 
only  observation  could  decide  whether  they  were  so. 

There  is  in  Euclid  the  contempt  for  practical  utility  which  had 
been  inculcated  by  Plato.  It  is  said  that  a  pupil,  after  listening  to 
a  demonstration,  asked  what  he  would  gain  by  learning  geometry, 
whereupon  Euclid  called  a  slave  and  said  "Give  the  young  man 
threepence,  since  he  must  needs  make  a  gain  out  of  what  he 
learns."  The  contempt  for  practice  was,  however,  pragmatically 
justified.  No  one,  in  Greek  times,  supposed  that  conic  sections 
had  any  utility;  at  last,  in  the  seventeenth  century,  Galileo  dis- 
covered that  projectiles  move  in  parabolas,  and  Kepler  discovered 
that  planets  move  in  ellipses.  Suddenly  the  work  that  the  Greeks 
had  done  from  pure  love  of  theory  became  the  key  to  warfare  and 
astronomy. 

The  Romans  were  too  practical-minded  to  appreciate  Euclid; 
the  first  of  them  to  mention  him  is  Cicero,  in  whose  time  there  was 
probably  no  Latin  translation ;  indeed  there  is  no  record  of  any 
Latin  translation  before  Boethius  (ca.  A.D.  480).  The  Arabs  were 
more  appreciative :  a  copy  was  given  to  the  caliph  by  the  Byzantine 
emperor  about  A.D.  760,  and  a  translation  into  Arabic  was  made 
under  Harun  al  Rashid,  about  A.D.  800.  The  first  still  extant 

234 


EARLY    GREEK    MATHEMATICS    AND   ASTRONOMY 

Latin  translation  was  made  from  the  Arabic  by  Adelard  of 
Bath  in  A.D.  1120.  From  that  time  on,  the  study  of  geometry 
gradually  revived  in  the  West;  but  it  was  not  until  the  late  Re- 
naissance that  important  advances  were  made. 

I  come  now  to  astronomy,  where  Greek  achievements  were  as 
remarkable  as  in  geometry.  Before  their  time,  among  the  Baby- 
lonians and  Egyptians,  many  centuries  of  observation  had  laid  a 
foundation.  The  apparent  motions  of  the  planets  had  been  re- 
corded, but  it  was  not  known  that  the  morning  and  evening  star 
were  the  same.  A  cycle  of  eclipses  had  been  discovered,  certainly 
in  Babylonia  and  probably  in  Egypt,  which  made  the  prediction 
of  lunar  eclipses  fairly  reliable,  but  not  of  solar  eclipses,  since 
those  were  not  always  visible  at  a  given  spot.  We  owe  to  the 
Babylonians  the  division  of  the  right  angle  into  ninety  degrees, 
and  of  the  degree  into  sixty  minutes;  they  had  a  liking  for  the 
number  sixty,  and  even  a  system  of  numeration  based  upon  it. 
The  Greeks  were  fond  of  attributing  the  wisdom  of  their  pioneers 
to  travels  in  Egypt,  but  what  had  really  been  achieved  before  the 
Greeks  was  very  little.  The  prediction  of  an  eclipse  by  Thales 
was,  however,  an  example  of  foreign  influence;  there  is  no  reason 
to  suppose  that  he  added  anything  to  what  he  learnt  from  Egyptian 
or  Babylonian  sources,  and  it  was  a  stroke  of  luck  that  his  prediction 
was  verified. 

Let  us  begin  with  some  of  the  earliest  discoveries  and  correct 
hypotheses.  Ariaximander  thought  that  the  earth  floats  freely,  and 
is  not  supported  on  anything.  Aristotle,1  who  often  rejected  the 
hcst  hypotheses  of  his  time,  objected  to  the  theory  of  Anaxi- 
inander,  that  the  earth,  being  at  the  centre,  remained  immovable 
because  there  was  no  reason  for  moving  in  one  direction  rather 
than  another.  If  this  were  valid,  he  said,  a  man  placed  at  the 
centre  of  a  circle  with  food  at  various  points  of  the  circumference 
would  starve  to  death  for  lack  of  reason  to  choose  one  portion  of 
food  rather  than  another.  This  argument  reappears  in  scholastic 
philosophy,  not  in  connection  with  astronomy,  but  with  free  will. 
It  reappears  in  the  form  of  "Buridan's  ass,"  which  was  unable  to 
choose  between  two  bundles  of  hay  placed  at  equal  distances  to 
right  and  left,  and  therefore  died  of  hunger. 

Pythagoras,  in  all  probability,  was  the  first  to  think  the  earth 
spherical,  but  his  reasons  were  (one  must  suppose)  aesthetic 

1  De  Cacto,  295*- 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL    THOUGHT 

rather  than  scientific.  Scientific  reasons,  however,  were  soon  found. 
Anaxagoras  discovered  that  the  moon  shines  by  reflected  light, 
and  gave  the  right  theory  of  eclipses.  He  himself  still  thought  the 
earth  flat,  but  the  shape  of  the  earth's  shadow  in  lunar  eclipses 
gave  the  Pythagoreans  conclusive  arguments  in  favour  of  its  being 
spherical.  They  went  further,  and  regarded  the  earth  as  one  of  the 
planets.  They  knew — from  Pythagoras  himself,  it  is  said — that 
the  morning  star  and  the  evening  star  are  identical,  and  they 
thought  that  ail  the  planets,  including  the  earth,  move  in  circles, 
not  round  the  sun,  but  round  the  "central  fire."  They  had  dis- 
covered that  the  moon  always  turns  the  same  face  to  the  earth, 
and  they  thought  that  the  earth  always  turns  the  same  face  to  the 
"central  fire."  The  Mediterranean  regions  were  on  the  side  turned 
away  from  the  central  fire,  which  was  therefore  always  invisible. 
The  central  fire  was  called  "the  house  of  Zeus,"  or  "the  Mother 
of  the  gods."  The  sun  was  supposed  to  shine  by  light  reflected 
from  the  central  fire.  In  addition  to  the  earth,  there  was  another 
body,  the  counter-earth,  at  the  same  distance  from  the  central 
fire.  For  this,  they  had  two  reasons,  one  scientific,  one  derived 
from  their  arithmetical  mysticism.  The  scientific  reason  was  the 
correct  observation  that  an  eclipse  of  the  moon  sometimes  occurs 
when  both  sun  and  moon  are  above  the  horizon.  Refraction, 
which  is  the  cause  of  this  phenomenon,  was  unknown  to  them, 
and  they  thought  that,  in  such  cases,  the  eclipse  must  be  due  to 
the  shadow  of  a  body  other  than  the  earth.  The  other  reason  was 
that  the  sun  and  moon,  the  five  planets,  the  earth  and  counter- 
earth,  and  the  central  fire,  made  ten  heavenly  bodies,  and  ten  was 
the  mystic  number  of  the  Pythagoreans. 

This  Pythagorean  theory  is  attributed  to  Philolatis,  a  Theban, 
who  lived  at  the  end  of  the  fifth  century  B.C.  Although  it  is  fanciful 
and  in  part  quite  unscientific,  it  is  very  important,  since  it  involves 
the  greater  part  of  the  imaginative  effort  required  for  conceiving 
the  Copernican  hypothesis.  To  conceive  of  the  earth,  not  as  the 
centre  of  the  universe,  but  as  one  among  the  planets,  not  as 
eternally  fixed,  but  as  wandering  through  space,  showed  an  extra- 
ordinary emancipation  from  anthropoctntric  thinking.  When  once 
this  jolt  had  been  given  to  men's  natural  picture  of  the  universe, 
it  was  not  so  very  difficult  to  be  led  by  scientific  arguments  to  a 
more  accurate  theory. 
To  this  various  observations  contributed.  Oenopidcs,  who  was 


EARLY    GREEK    MATHEMATICS   AND   ASTRONOMY 

slightly  later  than  Anaxagoras,  discovered  the  obliquity  of  the 
ecliptic.  It  soon  became  clear  that  the  sun  must  be  much  larger 
than  the  earth,  which  fact  supported  those  who  denied  that  the 
earth  is  the  centre  of  the  universe.  The  central  fire  and  the  counter- 
earth  were  dropped  by  the  Pythagoreans  soon  after  the  time  of 
Plato.  Heraclides  of  Pontus  (whose  dates  are  about  388  to  315  B.C., 
contemporary  with  Aristotle)  discovered  that  Venus  and  Mercury 
revolve  about  the  sun,  and  adopted  the  view  that  the  earth  rotates 
on  its  own  axis  once  every  twenty-four  hours.  This  last  was  a 
very  important  step,  which  no  predecessor  had  taken.  Heraclides 
was  of  Plato's  school,  and  must  have  been  a  great  man,  but  was 
not  as  much  respected  as  one  would  expect ;  he  is  described  as  a 
fat  dandy. 

Aristarchus  of  Samos,  who  lived  approximately  from  310  to 
230  B.C.,  and  was  thus  about  twenty-five  years  older  than  Archi- 
medes, is  the  most  interesting  of  all  ancient  astronomers,  because 
he  advanced  the  complete  Copernican  hypothesis,  that  all  the 
planets,  including  the  earth,  revolve  in  circles  round  the  sun,  and 
that  the  earth  rotates  on  its  axis  once  in  twenty-four  hours.  It  is 
a  little  disappointing  to  find  that  the  only  extant  work  of  Aristar- 
chus, On  the  Sizes  and  Distances  of  the  Sun  and  the  Moon,  adheres 
to  the  geocentric  view.  It  is  true  that,  for  the  problems  with  which 
this  book  deals,  it  makes  no  difference  which  theory  is  adopted, 
and  he  may  therefore  have  thought  it  unwise  to  burden  his  cal- 
culations with  an  unnecessary  opposition  to  the  general  opinion 
of  astronomers ;  or  he  may  have  only  arrived  at  the  Copernican 
hypothesis  after  writing  this  book.  Sir  Thomas  Heath,  in  his 
work  on  Aristarchus,1  which  contains  the  text  of  this  book  with 
a  translation,  inclines  to  the  latter  view.  The  evidence  that 
Aristarchus  suggested  the  Copernican  view  is,  in  any  case,  quite 
conclusive. 

The  first  and  best  evidence  is  that  of  Archimedes,  who,  as  we 
have  seen,  was  a  younger  contemporary  of  Aristarchus.  Writing 
to  Gelon,  King  of  Syracuse,  he  says  that  Aristarchus  brought  out 
"a  book  consisting  of  certain  hypotheses,"  and  continues:  "His 
hypotheses  are  that  the  fixed  stars  and  the  sun  remain  unmoved, 
that  the  earth  revolves  about  the  sun  in  the  circumference  of  a 
circle,  the  sun  lying  in  the  middle  of  the  orbit."  There  is  a 

1  Aristurchut  of  Samos,  the  Ancient  Copernicus.  By  Sir  Thomas  Heath. 
Oxford,  1913.  What  follows  is  bused  on  this  book. 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

passage  in  Plutarch  saying  that  Cleanthes  "thought  it  was  the 
duty  of  the  Greeks  to  indict  Aristarchus  of  Samos  on  the  charge 
of  impiety  for  putting  in  motion  the  Hearth  of  the  Universe  (i.e. 
the  earth),  this  being  the  effect  of  his  attempt  to  save  the  pheno- 
mena by  supposing  the  heaven  to  remain  at  rest  and  the  earth  to 
revolve  in  an  oblique  circle,  while  it  rotates,  at  the  same  time, 
about  its  own  axis."  Cleanthes  was  a  contemporary  of  Aristarchus, 
and  died  about  232  B.C.  In  another  passage,  Plutarch  says  that 
Aristarchus  advanced  this  view  only  as  a  hypothesis,  but  that 
his  successor  Seleucus  maintained  it  as  a  definite  opinion.  (Seleucus 
flourished  about  250  B.C.).  Aetius  and  Sextus  Empiricus  also  assert 
that  Aristarchus  advanced  the  heliocentric  hypothesis,  but  do  not 
say  that  it  was  set  forth  by  him  only  as  a  hypothesis.  Even  if  he 
did  so,  it  seems  not  unlikely  that  he,  like  Galileo  two  thousand 
years  later,  was  influenced  by  the  fear  of  offending  religious  pre- 
judices, a  fear  which  the  attitude  of  Cleanthes  (mentioned  above) 
shows  to  have  been  well  grounded. 

The  Copernican  hypothesis,  after  being  advanced,  whether  posi- 
tively or  tentatively,  by  Aristarchus,  was  definitely  adopted  by 
Seleucus,  but  by  no  other  ancient  astronomer.  This  general 
rejection  was  mainly  due  to  Hip  parch  us,  who  flourished  from  161 
to  126  B.C.  He  is  described  by  Heath  as  "the  greatest  astronomer 
of  antiquity."1  He  was  the  first  to  write  systematically  on  trigono- 
metry ;  he  discovered  the  precession  of  the  equinoxes ;  he  estimated 
the  length  of  the  lunar  month  with  an  error  of  less  than  one 
second;  he  improved  Aristarchus's  estimates  of  the  sizes  and 
distances  of  the  sun  and  moon;  he  made  a  catalogue  of  eight 
hundred  and  fifty  fixed  stars,  giving  their  latitude  and  longitude. 
As  against  the  heliocentric  hypothesis  of  Aristarchus,  he  adopted 
and  improved  the  theory  of  epicycles  which  had  been  invented  by 
Apollonius,  who  flourished  about  220  B.C.  ;  it  was  a  development 
of  this  theory  that  came  to  be  known,  later,  as  the  Ptolemaic 
system,  after  the  astronomer  Ptolemy,  who  flourished  in  the  middle 
of  the  second  century  A.D. 

Copernicus  perhaps  came  to  know  something,  though  not 
much,  of  the  almost  forgotten  hypothesis  of  Aristarchus,  and  was 
encouraged  by  finding  ancient  authority  for  his  innovation.  Other- 
wise, the  effect  of  this  hypothesis  on  subsequent  astronomy  was 
practically  nil. 

1  Greek  Mathematics,  Vol.  II,  p.  253. 


EARLY   GREEK   MATHEMATICS   AND   ASTRONOMY 

Ancient  astronomers,  in  estimating  the  sizes  of  the  earth,  moon, 
and  sun,  and  the  distances  of  the  moon  and  sun,  used  methods 
which  were  theoretically  valid,  but  they  were  hampered  by  the 
lack  of  instruments  of  precision.  Many  of  their  results,  in  view 
of  this  lack,  were  surprisingly  good.  Eratosthenes  estimated  the 
earth's  diameter  at  7,850  miles,  which  is  only  about  fifty  miles 
short  of  the  truth.  Ptolemy  estimated  the  mean  distance  of  the 
moon  at  29  J  times  the  earth's  diameter;  the  correct  figure  is 
about  30.2.  None  of  them  got  anywhere  near  the  size  and  distance 
of  the  sun,  which  all  under-estimated.  Their  estimates,  in  terms 
of  the  earth's  diameter,  were: 

Aristarchus,  180; 

Hipparchus,  1,245; 

Posidonius,  6,545. 

The  correct  figure  is  1 1 ,726.  It  will  be  seen  that  these  estimates 
continually  improved  (that  of  Ptolemy,  however,  showed  a  retro- 
gression) ;  that  of  Posidonius1  is  about  half  the  correct  figure.  On 
the  whole,  their  picture  of  the  solar  system  was  not  so  very  far 
from  the  truth. 

Creek  astronomy  was  geometrical,  not  dynamic.  The  ancients 
thought  of  the  motions  of  the  heavenly  bodies  as  uniform  and 
circular,  or  compounded  of  circular  motions.  They  had  not  the 
conception  of  force.  There  were  spheres  which  moved  as  a  whole, 
and  on  which  the  various  heavenly  bodies  were  fixed.  With  Newton 
and  gravitation  a  new  point  of  view,  less  geometrical,  was  intro- 
duced. It  is  curious  to  observe  that  there  is  a  reversion  to  the 
geometrical  point  of  view  in  Einstein's  General  Theory  of 
Relativity,  from  which  the  conception  of  force,  in  the  Newtonian 
sense,  has  been  banished. 

The  problem  for  the  astronomer  is  this:  given  the  apparent 
motions  of  the  heavenly  bodies  on  the  celestial  sphere,  to  introduce, 
by  hypothesis,  a  third  co-ordinate,  depth,  in  such  a  way  as  to 
make  the  description  of  the  phenomena  as  simple  as  possible. 
The  merit  of  the  Coperntcan  hypothesis  is  not  truth,  but  simplicity; 
in  view  of  the  relativity  of  motion,  no  question  of  truth  is  involved. 
The  Greeks,  in  their  search  for  hypotheses  which  would  "save 
the  phenomena,"  were  in  effect,  though  not  altogether  in  intention, 
tackling  the  problem  in  the  scientifically  correct  way.  A  com- 

1  Posidonius  was  Cicero's  teacher.  He  flourished  in  the  latter  half  of 
the  second  century  u.c 

239 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

parison  with  their  predecessors,  and  with  their  successors  until 
Copernicus,  must  convince  every  student  of  their  truly  astonishing 
genius. 

Two  very  great  men,  Archimedes  and  Apollonius,  in  the  third 
century  B.C.,  complete  the  list  of  first-class  Greek  mathematicians. 
Archimedes  was  a  friend,  probably  a  cousin,  of  the  king  of 
Syracuse,  and  was  killed  when  that  city  was  captured  by  the 
Romans  in  212  B.C.  Apollonius,  from  his  youth,  lived  at  Alexandria. 
Archimedes  was  not  only  a  mathematician,  but  also  a  physicist 
and  student  of  hydrostatics.  Apollonius  is  chiefly  noted  for  his 
work  on  conic  sections.  I  shall  say  no  more  about  them,  as  they 
came  too  late  to  influence  philosophy. 

After  these  two  men,  though  respectable  work  continued  to  be 
done  in  Alexandria,  the  great  age  was  ended.  Under  the  Roman 
domination,  the  Greeks  lost  the  self-confidence  that  belongs  to 
political  liberty,  and  in  losing  it  acquired  a  paralysing  respect  for 
their  predecessors.  The  Roman  soldier  who  killed  Archimedes 
was  a  symbol  of  the  death  of  original  thought  that  Rome  caused 
throughout  the  Hellenic  world. 


040 


Part  3. — Ancient  Philosophy  after  Aristotle 

Chapter  XXV 
THE   HELLENISTIC   WORLD 

^  I   WE  history  of  the  Greek-speaking  world  in  antiquity  may 

I    be  divided  into  three  periods:  that  of  the  free  City  States, 

JL    which  was  brought  to  an  end  by  Philip  and  Alexander; 

that  of  the  Macedonian  domination,  of  which  the  last  remnant 

was  extinguished  by  the  Roman  annexation  of  Egypt  after  the 

death  of  Cleopatra;  and  finally  that  of  the  Roman  Empire.  Of 

these  three  periods,  the  first  is  characterized  by  freedom  and 

disorder,  and  second  by  subjection  and  disorder,  the  third  by 

subjection  and  order. 

The  second  of  these  periods  is  known  as  the  Hellenistic  age. 
In  science  and  mathematics,  the  work  done  during  this  period  is 
the  best  ever  achieved  by  the  Greeks.  In  philosophy,  it  includes 
the  foundation  of  the  Epicurean  and  Stoic  schools,  and  also  of 
scepticism  as  a  definitely  formulated  doctrine;  it  is  therefore  still 
important  philosophically,  though  less  so  than  the  period  of  Plato 
and  Aristotle.  After  the  third  century  B.C.,  there  is  nothing  really 
new  in  Greek  philosophy  until  the  Neoplatonists  in  the  third 
century  A.D.  But  meanwhile  the  Roman  world  was  being  prepared 
for  the  victory  of  Christianity. 

The  brief  career  of  Alexander  suddenly  transformed  the  Greek 
world.  In  the  ten  years  from  334  to  324  B.C.,  he  conquered  Asia 
Minor,  Syria,  Egypt,  Babylonia,  Persia,  Samarcand,  Bactria,  and 
the  Punjab.  The  Persian  Empire,  the  greatest  that  the  world  had 
known,  was  destroyed  by  three  battles.  The  ancient  lore  of  the 
Babylonians,  along  with  their  ancient  superstitions,  became 
familiar  to  Greek  curiosity;  so  did  the  Zoroastrian  dualism  and 
(in  a  lesser  degree)  die  religions  of  India,  where  Buddhism  was 
moving  towards  supremacy.  Wherever  Alexander  penetrated,  even 
in  the  mountains  of  Afghanistan,  on  the  banks  of  the  Jaxattes, 
and  on  the  tributaries  of  the  Indus,  he  founded  Greek  cities,  in 
which  he  tried  to  reproduce  Greek  institutions,  with  a  measure 

241 


WESTERN   PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

of  self-government.  Although  his  army  was  composed  mainly  of 
Macedonians,  and  although  most  European  Greeks  submitted  to 
him  unwillingly,  he  considered  himself,  at  first,  as  the  apostle  of 
Hellenism.  Gradually,  however,  as  his  conquests  extended,  he 
adopted  the  policy  of  promoting  a  friendly  fusion  between  Greek 
and  barbarian. 

For  this  he  had  various  motives.  On  the  one  hand,  it  was  obvious 
that  his  armies,  which  were  not  very  large,  could  not  permanently 
hold  so  vast  an  empire  by  force,  but  must,  in  the  long  run,  depend 
upon  conciliation  of  the  conquered  populations.  On  the  other 
hand,  the  East  was  unaccustomed  to  any  form  of  government 
except  that  of  a  divine  king,  a  role  which  Alexander  felt  himself 
well  fitted  to  perform.  Whether  he  believed  himself  a  god,  or 
only  took  on  the  attributes  of  divinity  from  motives  of  policy,  is 
a  question  for  the  psychologist,  since  the  historical  evidence  is 
indecisive.  In  any  case,  he  clearly  enjoyed  the  adulation  which 
he  received  in  Egypt  as  successor  of  the  Pharaohs,  and  in  Persia 
as  the  Great  King.  His  Macedonian  captains — the  "Companions," 
as  they  were  called — had  towards  him  the  attitude  of  western 
nobles  to  their  constitutional  sovereign :  they  refused  to  prostrate 
themselves  before  him,  they  gave  advice  and  criticism  even  at  the 
risk  of  their  lives,  and  at  a  crucial  moment  they  controlled  his 
actions,  when  they  compelled  him  to  turn  homewards  from  the 
Indus  instead  of  marching  on  to  the  conquest  of  the  Ganges. 
Orientals  were  more  accommodating,  provided  their  religious 
prejudices  were  respected.  This  offered  no  difficulty  to  Alexander; 
it  was  only  necessary  to  identify  Ammon  or  Bel  with  Zeus,  and 
to  declare  himself  the  son  of  the  god.  Psychologists  observe  that 
Alexander  hated  Philip,  and  was  probably  privy  to  his  murder; 
he  would  have  liked  to  believe  that  his  mother  Olympias,  like 
some  lady  of  Greek  mythology,  had  been  beloved  of  a  god. 
Alexander's  career  was  so  miraculous  that  he  may  well  have 
thought  a  miraculous  origin  the  best  explanation  of  his  prodigious 
success. 

The  Greeks  had  a  very  strong  feeling  of  superiority  to  the  bar* 
barians;  Aristotle  no  doubt  expresses  the  general  view  when  he 
says  that  northern  races  are  spirited,  southern  races  civilized,  but 
the  Greeks  alone  are  both  spirited  and  civilized.  Plato  and  Aris- 
totle thought  it  wrong  to  make  slaves  of  Greeks,  but  not  of  bar- 
barians. Alexander,  who  was  not  quite  a  Greek,  tried  to  break 

242 


THE   HELLENISTIC    WORLD 

down  this  attitude  of  superiority.  He  himself  married  two  barbarian 
princesses,  and  he  compelled  his  leading  Macedonians  to  marry 
Persian  women  of  noble  birth.  His  innumerable  Greek  cities,  one 
would  suppose,  must  have  contained  many  more  male  than  female 
colonists,  and  their  men  must  therefore  have  followed  his  example 
in  intermarrying  with  the  women  of  the  locality.  The  result  of 
this  policy  was  to  bring  into  the  minds  of  thoughtful  men  the 
conception  of  mankind  as  a  whole;  the  old  loyalty  to  the  City 
State  and  (in  a  lesser  degree)  to  the  Greek  race  seemed  no  longer 
adequate.  In  philosophy,  this  cosmopolitan  point  of  view  begins 
with  the  Stoics,  but  in  practice  it  begins  earlier,  with  Alexander. 
It  had  the  result  that  the  interaction  of  Greek  and  barbarian  was 
reciprocal:  the  barbarians  learnt  something  of  Greek  science, 
while  the  Greeks  learnt  much  of  barbarian  superstition.  Greek 
civilization,  in  covering  a  wider  area,  became  less  purely  Greek. 

Greek  civilization  was  essentially  urban.  There  were,  of  course, 
many  Greeks  engaged  in  agriculture,  but  they  contributed  little 
to  what  was  distinctive  in  Hellenic  culture.  From  the  Milesian 
school  onwards,  the  Greeks  who  were  eminent  in  science  and 
philosophy  and  literature  were  associated  with  rich  commercial 
cities,  often  surrounded  by  barbarian  populations.  This  type  of 
civilization  was  inaugurated,  not  by  the  Greeks,  but  by  the  Phoe- 
nicians; Tyre  and  Sidon  and  Carthage  depended  on  slaves  for 
manual  labour  at  home,  and  on  hired  mercenaries  in  the  conduct 
of  their  wars.  They  did  not  depend,  as  modern  capital  cities  do, 
upon  large  rural  populations  of  the  same  blood  and  with  equal 
political  rights.  The  nearest  modern  analogue  is  to  be  seen  in  the 
Far  East  during  the  latter  half  of  the  nineteenth  century.  Singapore 
and  Hong  Kong,  Shanghai  and  the  other  treaty  ports  of  China, 
were  little  European  islands,  where  the  white  men  formed  a  com- 
mercial aristocracy  living  on  coolie  labour.  In  North  America, 
north  of  the  Mason- Dixon  line,  since  such  labour  was  not  available, 
white  men  were  compelled  to  practise  agriculture.  For  this  reason, 
the  hold  of  the  white  man  on  North  America  is  secure,  while  his 
hold  on  the  Far  East  has  already  been  greatly  diminished,  and 
may  easily  cease  altogether.  Much  of  his  type  of  culture,  especially 
industrialism,  will,  however,  survive.  This  analogue  will  help  us 
to  understand  the  position  of  the  Greeks  in  the 
Alexander's  empire. 

The  effect  of  Alexander  on  the  imagination 

241 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL    THOUGHT 

and  lasting.  The  First  Book  of  the  Maccabees,  written  centuries 
after  his  death,  opens  with  an  account  of  his  career: 

"And  it  happened,  after  that  Alexander,  son  of  Philip,  the  Mace- 
donian, who  came  out  of  the  land  of  Chettiim,  had  smitten  Darius, 
king  of  the  Persians  and  Medes,  that  he  reigned  in  his  stead,  the 
first  over  Greece,  and  made  many  wars,  and  won  many  strong 
holds,  and  slew  the  kings  of  the  earth,  and  went  through  to  the 
ends  of  the  earth,  and  took  spoil  of  many  nations,  insomuch  that 
the  earth  was  quiet  before  him;  whereupon  he  was  exalted,  and 
his  heart  was  lifted  up.  And  he  gathered  a  mighty  strong  host,  and 
ruled  over  countries,  and  nations,  and  kings,  who  became  tri- 
butaries unto  him.  And  after  these  things  he  fell  sick,  and  per- 
ceived that  he  should  die.  Wherefore  he  called  his  servants,  such 
as  were  honorable,  and  had  been  brought  up  with  him  from  his 
youth,  and  parted  his  kingdom  among  them,  while  he  was  yet 
alive.1  So  Alexander  reigned  twelve  years,  and  then  died/1 

He  survived  as  a  legendary  hero  in  the  Mohammedan  religion, 
and  to  this  day  petty  chieftains  in  the  Himalayas  claim  to  be 
descended  from  him.1  No  other  hilly  historical  hero  has  ever 
furnished  such  a  perfect  opportunity  for  the  mythopoeic  faculty. 

At  Alexander's  death,  there  was  an  attempt  to  preserve  the 
unit}'  of  his  empire.  But  of  his  two  sons,  one  was  an  infant  and 
the  other  was  not  yet  born.  Each  had  supporters,  but  in  the 
resultant  civil  war  both  were  thrust  aside.  In  the  end,  his  empire 
was  divided  between  the  families  of  three  generals,  of  whom, 
roughly  speaking,  one  obtained  the  European,  one  the  African, 
and  one  the  Asiatic  parts  of  Alexander's  possessions.  The  European 
part  fell  ultimately  to  Antigonus's  descendants;  Ptolemy,  who 
obtained  Egypt,  made  Alexandria  his  capital;  Seleucus,  who 
obtained  Asia  after  many  wars,  was  too  busy  with  campaigns  to 
have  a  fixed  capital,  but  in  later  times  Antioch  was  the  chief  city 
of  his  dynasty. 

Both  the  Ptolemies  and  the  Seleucids  (as  the  dynasty  of  Seleu- 
cus was  called)  abandoned  Alexander's  attempts  to  produce  a 
fusion  of  Greek  and  barbarian,  and  established  military  tyrannies 
based,  at  first,  upon  their  part  of  the  Macedonian  army  streng- 
thened with  Greek  mercenaries.  The  Ptolemies  held  Egypt  fairly 

1  7%his  is  not  historically  true. 

*  Perhaps  this  is  no  longer  true,  as  the  sons  of  thobc  who  held  thia  belief 
have  been  educated  at  Eton. 

244 


THE    HELLENISTIC    WORLD 

securely,  but  in  Asia  two  centuries  of  confused  dynastic  wars  were 
only  ended  by  the  Roman  conquest.  During  these  centuries, 
Persia  was  conquered  by  the  Parthians,  and  the  Bactrian  Greeks 
were  increasingly  isolated. 

In  the  second  century  B.C.  (after  which  they  rapidly  declined) 
they  had  a  king,  Menander,  whose  Indian  Empire  was  very 
extensive.  A  couple  of  dialogues  between  him  and  a  Buddhist  sage 
have  survived  in  Pali,  and,  in  part,  in  a  Chinese  translation.  Dr. 
Tarn  suggests  that  the  first  of  these  is  based  on  a  Greek  original; 
the  second,  which  ends  with  Menander  abdicating  and  becoming 
a  Buddhist  saint,  is  certainly  not. 

Buddhism,  at  this  time,  was  a  vigorous  proselytizing  religion. 
Asoka  (264-228),  the  saintly  Buddhist  king,  records,  in  a  still  extant 
inscription,  that  he  sent  missionaries  to  all  the  Macedonian  kings: 
"And  this  is  the  cliicfcst  conquest  in  His  Majesty's  opinion — the 
conquest  by  the  Law;  this  also  is  that  effected  by  His  Majesty  both 
in  his  own  dominions  and  in  all  the  neighbouring  realms  as  far 
as  six  hundred  leagues —even  to  where  the  Greek  king  Antiochus 
dwells,  and  beyond  that  Antiochus  to  where  dwell  the  four  kings 
severally  named  Ptolemy,  Antigonus,  Magas,  and  Alexander  .  .  , 
and  likewise  here,  in  the  king's  dominions,  among  the  Yonas"1 
(i.e.  the  Greeks  of  the  Punjab).  Unfortunately  no  western  account 
of  these  missionaries  has  survived. 

Babylonia  was  much  more  profoundly  influenced  by  Hellenism. 
As  we  have  seen,  the  only  ancient  who  followed  Aristarchus  of 
Sarnos  in  maintaining  the  Copernican  system  was  Seleucus  of 
Sdeucia  on  the  Tigris,  who  flourished  about  150  B.C.  Tacitus 
tells  us  that  in  the  first  century  A.D.  Seleucia  had  not  "lapsed  into 
the  barbarous  usages  of  the  Parthians,  but  still  retained  the  insti- 
tutions of  Seleucus,8  its  Greek  founder.  Three  hundred  citizens, 
chosen  for  their  wealth  or  wisdom,  compose  as  it  were  a  Senate; 
the  {x>pulace  too  have  their  share  of  power."3  Throughout  Meso- 
potamia, as  further  West,  Greek  became  the  language  of  literature 
and  culture,  and  remained  so  until  the  Mohammedan  conquest. 

Syria  (excluding  Judea)  became  completely  Hellenized  in  the 
cities,  in  so  far  as  language  and  literature  were  concerned.  But  the 
rural  populations,  which  were  more  conservative,  retained  the 

1  Quoted  in  Be  van,  Housf  of  ScletAtvs,  Vol.  I,  p.  29811. 
*  The  king,  not  die  astronomer. 
Book  VI,  chap.  42. 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

religions  and  the  languages  to  which  they  were  accustomed.1  In 
Asia  Minor,  the  Greek  cities  of  the  coast  had,  for  centuries,  had 
an  influence  on  their  barbarian  neighbours.  This  was  intensified 
by  the  Macedonian  conquest.  The  first  conflict  of  Hellenism  with 
the  Jews  is  related  in  the  Books  of  the  Maccabees.  It  is  a  profoundly 
interesting  story,  unlike  anything  else  in  the  Macedonian  Empire. 
I  shall  deal  with  it  at  a  later  stage,  when  I  come  to  the  origin  and 
growth  of  Christianity.  Elsewhere,  Greek  influence  encountered 
no  such  stubborn  opposition. 

From  the  point  of  view  of  Hellenistic  culture,  the  most  brilliant 
success  of  the  third  century  B.C.  was  the  city  of  Alexandria.  Egypt 
was  less  exposed  to  war  than  the  European  and  Asiatic  parts  of 
the  Macedonian  domain,  and  Alexandria  was  in  an  extraordinarily 
favoured  position  for  commerce.  The  Ptolemies  were  patrons  of 
learning,  and  attracted  to  their  capital  many  of  the  best  men  of 
the  age.  Mathematics  became,  and  remained  until  the  fall  of  Rome, 
mainly  Alexandrian.  Archimedes,  it  is  true,  was  a  Sicilian,  and 
belonged  to  the  one  part  of  the  world  where  the  Greek  City 
States  (until  the  moment  of  his  death  in  212  B.C.)  retained  their 
independence ;  but  he  too  had  studied  in  Alexandria.  Eratosthenes 
was  chief  librarian  of  the  famous  library  of  Alexandria.  The 
mathematicians  and  men  of  science  connected,  more  or  less  closely, 
with  Alexandria  in  the  third  century  before  Christ  were  as  able 
as  any  of  the  Greeks  of  the  previous  centuries,  and  did  work  of 
equal  importance.  But  they  were  not,  like  their  predecessors,  men 
who  took  all  learning  for  their  province,  and  propounded  universal 
philosophies;  they  were  specialists  in  the  modern  sense.  Euclid, 
Aristarchus,  Archimedes,  and  Apollonius,  were  content  to  be 
mathematicians ;  in  philosophy  they  did  not  aspire  to  originality. 

Specialization  characterized  the  age  in  all  departments,  not  only 
in  the  world  of  learning.  In  the  self-governing  Greek  cities  of  the 
fifth  and  fourth  centuries,  a  capable  man  was  assumed  to  be  capable 
of  everything.  He  would  be,  as  occasion  arose,  a  soldier,  a  politician, 
a  lawgiver,  or  a  philosopher.  Socrates,  though  he  disliked  politics, 
could  not  avoid  being  mixed  up  with  political  disputes.  In  his 
youth  he  was  a  soldier,  and  (in  spite  of  his  disclaimer  in  the 
Apology)  a  student  of  physical  science.  Protagoras,  when  he  could 
spare  time  from  teaching  scepticism  to  aristocratic  youths  in  search 
of  the  latest  thing,  was  drawing  up  a  code  of  laws  for  Thurii. 
1  See  Cambridge  Ancient  History*  VoL  V1J,  pp.  194-5. 

246 


THE   HELLENISTIC   WORLD 

Plato  dabbled  in  politics,  though  unsuccessfully.  Xenophon, 
when  he  was  neither  writing  about  Socrates  nor  being  a  country 
gentleman,  spent  his  spare  time  as  a  general.  Pythagorean  mathe- 
maticians attempted  to  acquire  the  government  of  cities.  Every- 
body had  to  serve  on  juries  and  perform  various  other  public 
duties.  In  the  third  century  all  this  was  changed.  There  continued, 
it  is  true,  to  be  politics  in  the  old  City  States,  but  they  had  become 
parochial  and  unimportant,  since  Greece  was  at  the  mercy  of 
Macedonian  aimies.  The  serious  struggles  for  power  were  between 
Macedonian  soldiers ;  they  involved  no  question  of  principle,  but 
merely  the  distribution  of  territory  between  rival  adventurers.  On 
administrative  and  technical  matters,  these  more  or  less  unedu- 
cated soldiers  employed  Greeks  as  experts;  in  Egypt,  for  example, 
excellent  work  was  done  in  irrigation  and  drainage.  There  were 
soldiers,  administrators,  physicians,  mathematicians,  philosophers, 
but  there  was  no  one  who  was  all  these  at  once. 

The  age  was  one  in  which  a  man  who  had  money  and  no  desire 
for  power  could  enjoy  a  very  pleasant  life — always  assuming  that 
no  marauding  army  happened  to  come  his  way.  Learned  men  who 
found  favour  with  some  prince  could  enjoy  a  high  degree  of  luxury, 
provided  they  were  adroit  flatterers  and  did  not  mind  being  the 
butt  of  ignorant  royal  witticisms.  But  there  was  no  such  thing  as 
security.  A  palace  revolution  might  displace  the  sycophantic 
sage's  patron;  the  Galatians  might  destroy  the  rich  man's  villa; 
one's  city  might  be  sacked  as  an  incident  in  a  dynastic  war.  In 
such  circumstances  it  is  no  wonder  that  people  took  to  worshipping 
the  goddess  Fortune,  or  Luck.  There  seemed  nothing  rational  in 
the  ordering  of  human  affairs.  Those  who  obstinately  insisted 
upon  finding  rationality  somewhere  withdrew  into  themselves, 
and  decided,  like  Milton's  Satan,  that 

The  mind  is  its  own  place,  and  in  itself 
Can  make  a  heaven  of  hell,  a  hell  of  heaven. 

Except  for  adventurous  self-seekers,  there  was  no  longer  any 
incentive  to  take  an  interest  in  public  affairs.  After  the  brilliant 
episode  of  Alexander's  conquests,  the  Hellenistic  world  was 
sinking  into  chaos,  for  lack  of  a  despot  strong  enough  to  achieve 
stable  supremacy,  or  a  principle  powerful  enough  to  produce 
social  cohesion.  Greek  intelligence,  confronted  with  new  political 
problems,  showed  complete  incompetence.  The  Romans,  no 

247 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

doubt,  were  stupid  and  brutal  compared  to  the  Greeks,  but  at 
least  they  created  order.  The  old  disorder  of  the  days  of  freedom 
had  been  tolerable,  because  every  citizen  had  a  share  in  it;  but 
the  new  Macedonian  disorder,  imposed  upon  subjects  by  incom- 
petent rulers,  was  utterly  intolerable — far  more  so  than  the  subse- 
quent subjection  to  Rome. 

There  was  widespread  social  discontent  and  fear  of  revolution. 
The  wages  of  free  labour  fell,  presumably  owing  to  the  competition 
of  eastern  slave  labour;  and  meantime  the  prices  of  necessaries 
rose.  One  finds  Alexander,  at  the  outset  of  his  enterprise,  having 
time  to  make  treaties  designed  to  keep  the  poor  in  their  place. 
"In  the  treaties  made  in  335  between  Alexander  and  the  States 
of  the  League  of  Corinth  it  was  provided  that  the  Council  of  the 
League  and  Alexander's  representative  were  to  see  to  it  that  in 
no  city  of  the  League  should  there  be  either  confiscation  of  per- 
sonal property,  or  division  of  land,  or  cancellation  of  debt,  or 
liberation  of  slaves  for  the  purpose  of  revolution."1  The  temples, 
in  the  Hellenistic  world,  were  the  bankers;  they  owned  the  gold 
reserve,  and  controlled  credit.  In  the  early  third  century,  the 
temple  of  Apollo  at  Delos  made  loans  at  ten  per  cent ;  formerly, 
the  rate  of  interest  had  been  higher.2 

Free  labourers  who  found  wages  insufficient  even  for  bare 
necessities  must,  if  young  and  vigorous,  have  been  able  to  obtain 
employment  as  mercenaries.  The  life  of  a  mercenary,  no  doubt, 
was  filled  with  hardships  and  dangers,  but  it  also  had  great  possi- 
bilities. There  might  be  the  loot  of  some  rich  eastern  city ;  there 
might  be  a  chance  of  lucrative  mutiny.  It  must  have  been  dangerous 
for  a  commander  to  attempt  to  disband  his  army,  and  this  must 
have  been  one  of  the  reasons  why  wars  were  almost  continuous. 

The  old  civic  spirit  more  or  less  survived  in  the  old  Greek 
cities,  but  not  in  the  new  cities  founded  by  Alexander — not  ex- 
cepting Alexandria.  In  earlier  times,  a  new  city  was  always  a 
colony  composed  of  emigrants  from  some  one  older  city,  and  it 
remained  connected  with  its  parent  by  a  bond  of  sentiment.  This 
kind  of  sentiment  had  great  longevity,  as  is  shown,  for  example, 
by  the  diplomatic  activities  of  Lampsacus  on  the  Hellespont  in 

1  "The  Social  Question  in  the  Third  Century,"  by  W  W.  Tarn,  in  7Vi« 
Hellenistic  Age  by  various  authors.  Cambridge,  1923.  This  essay  is  exceed* 
ingly  interesting,  and  contains  many  facts  nor  elsewhere  readily  accessible. 

'  Ibid. 


THE   HELLENISTIC   WORLD 

the  year  196  B.C.  This  city  was  threatened  with  subjugation  by  the 
Seleucid  King  Antiochus  III,  and  decided  to  appeal  to  Rome  for 
protection.  An  embassy  was  sent,  but  it  did  not  go  direct  to  Rome ; 
it  went  first,  in  spite  of  the  immense  distance,  to  Marseilles,  which, 
like  Lampsacus,  was  a  colony  of  Phocaea,  and  was,  moreover, 
viewed  with  friendly  eyes  by  the  Romans.  The  citizens  of  Mar- 
seilles, having  listened  to  an  oration  by  the  envoy,  at  once  decided 
to  send  a  diplomatic  mission  of  their  own  to  Rome  to  support 
their  sister  city.  The  Gauls  who  lived  inland  from  Marseilles 
joined  in  with  a  letter  to  their  kinsmen  of  Asia  Minor,  the 
Galatians,  recommending  Lampsacus  to  their  friendship.  Rome, 
naturally,  was  glad  of  a  pretext  for  meddling  in  the  affairs  of  Asia 
Minor,  and  by  Rome's  intervention  Lampsacus  preserved  its 
freedom — until  it  became  inconvenient  to  the  Romans.1 

In  general,  the  rulers  of  Asia  called  themselves  "Phil-Hellene," 
and  befriended  the  old  Greek  cities  as  far  as  policy  and  military 
necessity  allowed.  The  cities  desired,  and  (when  they  could) 
claimed  as  a  right,  democratic  self-government,  absence  of  tribute, 
and  freedom  from  a  royal  garrison.  It  was  worth  while  to  conciliate 
them,  because  they  were  rich,  they  could  supply  mercenaries,  and 
many  of  them  had  important  harbours.  But  if  they  took  the  wrong 
side  in  a  civil  war,  they  exposed  themselves  to  sheer  conquest. 
On  the  whole,  the  Seleucids,  and  the  other  dynasties  which 
gradually  grew  up,  dealt  tolerably  with  them,  but  there  were 
exceptions. 

The  new  cities,  though  they  had  a  measure  of  self-government, 
had  not  the  same  traditions  as  the  older  ones.  Their  citizens  were 
not  of  homogeneous  origin,  but  were  from  all  parts  of  Greece. 
They  were  in  the  main  adventurers  like  the  conquistadors  or  the 
settlers  in  Johannesburg,  not  pious  pilgrims  like  the  earlier  Greek 
colonists  or  the  New  England  pioneers.  Consequently  no  one  of 
Alexander's  cities  formed  a  strong  political  unit.  This  was  con- 
venient from  the  standpoint  of  the  king's  government,  but  a 
weakness  from  the  standpoint  of  the  spread  of  Hellenism. 

The  influence  of  non-Greek  religion  and  superstition  in  the 
Hellenistic  world  was  mainly,  but  not  wholly,  bad.  This  might 
not  have  been  the  case.  Jews,  Persians,  and  Buddhists  all  had 
religions  that  were  very  definitely  superior  to  the  popular  Greek 
polytheism,  and  could  even  have  been  studied  with  profit  by  the 
1  Heyan,  House  of  Seleucut,  Vol.  II,  pp.  45-0. 

H9 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

best  philosophers.  Unfortunately  it  was  the  Babylonians,  or 
Chaldeans,  who  most  impressed  the  imagination  of  the  Greeks. 
There  was,  first  of  all,  their  fabulous  antiquity ;  the  priestly  records 
went  back  for  thousands  of  years,  and  professed  to  go  back  for 
thousands  more.  Then  there  was  some  genuine  wisdom:  the 
Babylonians  could  more  or  less  predict  eclipses  long  before  the 
Greeks  could.  But  these  were  merely  causes  of  receptiveness; 
what  was  received  was  mainly  astrology  and  magic.  "Astrology," 
says  Professor  Gilbert  Murray,  "fell  upon  the  Hellenistic  mind  as 
a  new  disease  falls  upon  some  remote  island  people.  The  tomb  of 
Ozymandias,  as  described  by  Diodorus,  was  covered  with  astro- 
logical symbols,  and  that  of  Antiochus  I,  which  has  been  dis- 
covered in  Commagene,  is  of  the  same  character.  It  was  natural 
for  monarchs  to  believe  that  the  stars  watched  over  them.  But 
every  one  was  ready  to  receive  the  germ."1  It  appears  that  astrology 
was  first  taught  to  the  Greeks  in  the  time  of  Alexander,  by  a 
Chaldean  named  Berosus,  who  taught  in  Cos,  and,  according  to 
Seneca,  "interpreted  Bel."  "This,"  says  Professor  Murray,  "must 
mean  that  he  translated  into  Greek  the  'Eye  of  Bel,'  a  treatise  in 
seventy  tablets  found  in  the  library  of  Assur-bani-pal  (686-626  B.C.) 
but  composed  for  Sargon  I  in  the  third  millennium  B.C."  (ibid., 
p.  176). 

As  we  shall  see,  the  majority  even  of  the  best  philosophers  fell 
in  with  the  belief  in  astrology.  It  involved,  since  it  thought  the 
future  predictable,  a  belief  in  necessity  or  fate,  which  could  be 
set  against  the  prevalent  belief  in  fortune.  No  doubt  most  men 
believed  in  both,  and  never  noticed  the  inconsistency. 

The  general  confusion  was  bound  to  bring  moral  decay,  even 
more  than  intellectual  enfeeblement.  Ages  of  prolonged  uncer- 
tainty, while  they  are  compatible  with  the  highest  degree  of  saintli- 
ness  in  a  few,  are  inimical  to  the  prosaic  every-day  virtues  of 
respectable  citizens.  There  seems  no  use  in  thrift,  when  to-morrow 
all  your  savings  may  be  dissipated ;  no  advantage  in  honesty,  when 
the  man  towards  whom  you  practise  it  is  pretty  sure  to  swindle 
you ;  no  point  in  steadfast  adherence  to  a  cause,  when  no  cause  is 
important  or  has  a  chance  of  stable  victory ;  no  argument  in  favour 
of  truthfulness,  when  only  supple  tergiversation  makes  the  pre- 
servation of  life  and  fortune  possible.  The  man  whose  virtue  has 
no  source  except  a  purely  terrestrial  prudence  will,  in  such  a  world, 
1  Fit*  Stag€*  of  Gfttk  Reti0<m9  pp.  17778 


THE    HELLENISTIC    WORLD 

become  an  adventurer  if  he  has  the  courage,  and,  if  not,  will  seek 
obscurity  as  a  timid  time-server. 
Menander,  who  belongs  to  this  age,  says: 

So  many  cases  I  have  known 
Of  men  who,  though  not  naturally  rogues, 
Became  so,  through  misfortune,  by  constraint. 

This  sums  up  the  moral  character  of  the  third  century  B.C., 
except  for  a  few  exceptional  men.  Even  among  these  few,  fear 
took  the  place  of  hope ;  the  purpose  of  life  was  rather  to  escape 
misfortune  than  to  achieve  any  positive  good.  "Metaphysics  sink 
into  the  background,  and  ethics,  now  individual,  become  of  the 
first  importance.  Philosophy  is  no  longer  the  pillar  of  fire  going 
before  a  few  intrepid  seekers  after  truth :  it  is  rather  an  ambulance 
following  in  the  wake  of  the  struggle  for  existence  and  picking  up 
the  weak  and  wounded."1 

1  C.  F.  Angus  in  Cambridge  Ancient  History,  Vol.  VII,  p.  231.  The 
above  quotation  from  Menander  is  taken  from  the  same  chapter. 


251 


Chapter  XXVI 
CYNICS   AND   SCEPTICS 

E  I  IHE  relation  of  intellectually  eminent  men  to  contemporary 
I  society  has  been  very  different  in  different  ages.  In  some 
JL  fortunate  epochs  they  have  been  on  the  whole  in  harmony 
with  their  surroundings — suggesting,  no  doubt,  such  reforms  as 
seemed  to  them  necessary,  but  fairly  confident  that  their  sugges- 
tions would  be  welcomed,  and  not  disliking  the  world  in  which 
they  found  themselves  even  if  it  remained  unreformed.  At  other 
times  they  have  been  revolutionary,  considering  that  radical 
alterations  were  called  for,  but  expecting  that,  partly  as  a  result 
of  their  advocacy,  these  alterations  would  be  brought  about  in  the 
near  future.  At  yet  other  times  they  have  despaired  of  the  world, 
and  felt  that,  though  they  themselves  knew  what  was  needed, 
there  was  no  hope  of  its  being  brought  about.  This  mood  sinks 
easily  into  the  deeper  despair  which  regards  life  on  earth  as 
essentially  bad,  and  hopes  for  good  only  in  a  future  life  or  in 
some  mystical  transfiguration. 

In  some  ages,  all  these  attitudes  have  been  adopted  by  different 
men  living  at  the  same  time.  Consider,  for  example,  the  early 
nineteenth  century.  Goethe  is  comfortable,  Bentharn  is  a  reformer, 
Shelley  is  a  revolutionary,  and  Leopardi  is  a  pessimist.  But  in 
most  periods  there  has  been  a  prevailing  tone  among  great  writers. 
In  England  they  were  comfortable  under  Elizabeth  and  in  the 
eighteenth  century;  in  France,  they  became  revolutionary  about 
1750;  in  Germany,  they  have  been  nationalistic  since  1813. 

During  the  period  of  ecclesiastical  domination,  from  the  fifth 
century  to  the  fifteenth,  there  was  a  certain  conflict  between  what 
was  theoretically  believed  and  what  was  actually  felt.  Theoretically, 
the  world  was  a  vale  of  tears,  a  preparation,  amid  tribulation,  for 
the  world  to  come.  But  in  practice  the  writers  of  hooks,  being 
almost  all  clerics,  could  not  help  feeling  exhilarated  by  the  power 
of  the  Church;  they  found  opportunity  for  abundant  activity  of 
a  sort  that  they  believed  to  be  useful.  They  had  therefore  the 
mentality  of  a  governing  class,  not  of  men  who  feel  themselves 
exiles  in  an  alien  world.  This  is  part  of  the  curious  dualism  that 
runs  through  the  Middle  Ages,  owing  to  the  fact  that  the  Church, 

252 


CYNICS   AND   SCEPTICS 

chough  based  on  other-worldly  beliefs,  was  the  most  important 
institution  in  the  every-day  world. 

The  psychological  preparation  for  the  other-worldliness  of 
Christianity  begins  in  the  Hellenistic  period,  and  is  connected 
with  the  eclipse  of  the  City  State.  Down  to  Aristotle,  Greek  philo- 
sophers, though  they  might  complain  of  this  or  that,  were,  in 
the  main,  not  cosmically  despairing,  nor  did  they  feel  themselves 
politically  impotent.  They  might,  at  times,  belong  to  a  beaten 
party,  but,  if  so,  their  defeat  was  due  to  the  chances  of  conflict, 
not  to  any  inevitable  powerlessness  of  the  wise.  Even  those  who, 
like  Pythagoras,  and  Plato  in  certain  moods,  condemned  the  world 
of  appearance  and  sought  escape  in  mysticism,  had  practical  plans 
for  turning  the  governing  classes  into  saints  and  sages.  When 
political  power  passed  into  the  hands  of  the  Macedonians,  Greek 
philosophers,  as  was  natural,  turned  aside  from  politics  and 
devoted  themselves  more  to  the  problem  of  individual  virtue  or 
salvation.  They  no  longer  asked:  how  can  men  create  a  good 
State?  They  asked  instead:  how  can  men  be  virtuous  in  a  wicked 
world,  or  happy  in  a  world  of  suffering?  The  change,  it  is  true, 
is  only  one  of  degree ;  such  questions  had  been  asked  before,  and 
the  later  Stoics,  for  a  time,  again  concerned  themselves  with 
politics — the  politic^  of  Rome,  not  of  Greece.  But  the  change  was 
none  the  less  real.  Except  to  a  limited  extent  during  the  Roman 
period  in  Stoicism,  the  outlook  of  those  who  thought  and  felt 
seriously  became  increasingly  subjective  and  individualistic,  until, 
at  last,  Christianity  evolved  a  gospel  of  individual  salvation  which 
inspired  missionary  zeal  and  created  the  Church.  Until  that 
happened,  there  was  no  institution  to  which  the  philosopher  could 
give  whole-hearted  adherence,  and  therefore  there  was  no  ade- 
cjuate  outlet  for  his  legitimate  love  of  power.  For  this  reason,  the 
philosophers  of  the  Hellenistic  period  are  more  limited  as  human 
beings  than  the  men  who  lived  while  the  City  State  could  still 
inspire  allegiance.  They  still  think,  because  they  cannot  help 
thinking;  but  they  scarcely  hope  that  their  thought  will  bear  fruit 
in  the  world  of  affairs. 

Four  schools  of  philosophy  were  founded  about  the  time  of 
Alexander.  The  two  most  famous,  the  Stoics  and  Epicureans, 
will  be  the  subjects  of  later  chapters ;  in  the  present  chapter  we 
shall  be  concerned  with  the  Cynics  and  Sceptics. 

The  first  of  these  schools  is  derived,  through  its  founder  Dio- 

253 


WESTERN   PHILOSOPHICAL    THOUGHT 

genes,  from  Amisthenes,  a  disciple  of  Socrates,  about  twenty 
years  older  than  Plato.  Antisthenes  was  a  remarkable  character, 
in  some  ways  rather  like  Tolstoy.  Until  after  the  death  of  Socrates, 
he  lived  in  the  aristocratic  circle  of  his  fellow  disciples,  and 
showed  no  sign  of  unorthodoxy.  But  something — whether  the 
defeat  of  Athens,  or  the  death  of  Socrates,  or  a  distaste  for  philo- 
sophic quibbling — caused  him,  when  no  longer  young,  to  despise 
the  things  that  he  had  formerly  valued.  He  would  have  nothing 
but  simple  goodness.  He  associated  with  working  men,  and 
dressed  as  one  of  them.  He  took  to  open-air  preaching,  in  a  style 
that  the  uneducated  could  understand.  All  refined  philosophy  he 
held  to  be  worthless;  what  could  be  known,  could  be  known  by 
the  plain  man.  He  believed  in  the  "return  to  nature/1  and  carried 
this  belief  very  far.  There  was  to  be  no  government,  no  private 
property,  no  marriage,  no  established  religion.  His  followers,  if 
not  he  himself,  condemned  slavery.  He  was  not  exactly  ascetic, 
but  he  despised  luxury  and  all  pursuit  of  artificial  pleasures  of 
the  senses.  "I  had  rather  be  mad  than  delighted/'  he  said.1 

The  fame  of  Antisthenes  was  surpassed  by  that  of  his  disciple 
Diogenes,  "a  young  man  from  Sinope,  on  the  Euxine,  whom  he 
[Antisthenes]  did  not  take  to  at  first  sight ;  the  son  of  a  disreputable 
money-changer  who  had  been  sent  to  prison  for  defacing  the 
coinage.  Antisthenes  ordered  the  lad  away, but  he  paid  no  attention ; 
he  beat  him  with  his  stick,  but  he  never  moved.  He  wanted 
'wisdom/  and  saw  that  Antisthenes  had  it  to  give.  His  aim  in 
life  was  to  do  as  his  father  had  done,  to  'deface  the  coinage/  but 
on  a  much  larger  scale.  He  would  deface  all  the  coinage  current 
in  the  world.  Every  conventional  stamp  was  false.  The  men 
stamped  as  generals  and  kings;  the  things  stamped  as  honour  and 
wisdom  and  happiness  and  riches ;  all  were  base  metal  with  lying 
superscription/'* 

He  decided  to  live  like  a  dog,  and  was  therefore  called  a  "cynic," 
which  means  "canine."  He  rejected  all  conventions — whether  of 
religion,  of  manners,  of  dress,  of  housing,  of  food,  or  of  decency. 
One  is  told  that  he  lived  in  a  tub,  but  Gilbert  Murray  assures  us 
that  this  is  a  mistake:  it  was  a  large  pitcher,  of  the  sort  used  in 
primitive  times  for  burials.8  He  lived,  like  an  Indian  fakir,  by 
begging.  He  proclaimed  his  brotherhood,  not  only  with  the  whole 

1  Benn,  Vol.  II,  pp.  4,  5:  Murray,  Five  Stagey  pp.  113-14. 

9  Ibid.,  p.  117.  •  Ibid.,  p.  no. 


CYNICS    AND   SCEPTICS 

human  race,  but  also  with  animals.  He  was  a  man  about  whom 
stories  gathered,  even  in  his  lifetime.  Everyone  knows  how 
Alexander  visited  him,  and  asked  if  he  desired  any  favour ;  "only 
to  stand  out  of  my  light/'  he  replied. 

The  teaching  of  Diogenes  was  by  no  means  what  we  now  call 
"cynical"— quite  the  contrary.  He  had  an  ardent  passion  for 
"virtue,"  in  comparison  with  which  he  held  worldly  goods  of  no 
account.  He  sought  virtue  and  moral  freedom  in  liberation  from 
desire:  be  indifferent  to  the  goods  that  fortune  has  to  bestow, 
and  you  will  be  emancipated  from  fear.  In  this  respect,  his  doctrine, 
as  we  shall  see,  was  taken  up  by  the  Stoics,  but  they  did  not  follow 
him  in  rejecting  the  amenities  of  civilization.  He  considered  that 
Prometheus  was  justly  punished  for  bringing  to  man  the  arts  that 
have  produced  the  complication  and  artificiality  of  modern  life. 
In  this  he  resembled  the  Taoists  and  Rousseau  and  Tolstoy,  but 
was  more  consistent  than  they  were. 

His  doctrine,  though  he  was  a  contemporary  of  Aristotle, 
belongs  in  its  temper  to  the  Hellenistic  age.  Aristotle  is  the  last 
Greek  philosopher  who  faces  the  world  cheerfully ;  after  him,  all 
have,  in  one  form  or  another,  a  philosophy  of  retreat.  The  world 
is  bad ;  let  us  learn  to  be  independent  of  it.  External  goods  are 
precarious ;  they  are  the  gift  of  fortune,  not  the  reward  of  our  own 
efforts.  Only  subjective  goods — virtue,  or  contentment  through 
resignation — are  secure,  and  these  alone,  therefore,  will  be  valued 
by  the  wise  man.  Diogenes  personally  was  a  man  full  of  vigour, 
but  his  doctrine,  like  all  those  of  the  Hellenistic  age,  was  one  to 
appeal  to  weary  men,  in  whom  disappointment  had  destroyed 
natural  zest.  And  it  was  certainly  not  a  doctrine  calculated  to 
promote  art  or  science  or  statesmanship,  or  any  useful  activity 
except  one  of  protest  against  powerful  evil. 

It  is  interesting  to  observe  what  the  Cynic  teaching  became 
when  it  was  popularized.  In  the  early  part  of  the  third  century  B.C., 
the  cynics  were  the  fashion,  especially  in  Alexandria.  They 
published  little  sermons  pointing  out  how  easy  it  is  to  do  without 
material  possessions,  how  happy  one  can  be  on  simple  food,  how 
warm  one  can  keep  in  winter  without  expensive  clothes  (which 
might  be  true  in  Egypt  I),  how  silly  it  is  to  feel  affection  for  one's 
native  country,  or  to  mourn  when  one's  children  or  friends  die. 
"Because  my  son  or  my  wife  is  dead/*  says  Teles,  who  was  one 
of  these  popularizing  Cynics,  "is  that  any  reason  for  my  neglecting 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

myself,  who  am  still  alive,  and  ceasing  to  look  after  my  property  ?"* 
At  this  point,  it  becomes  difficult  to  feel  any  sympathy  with  the 
simple  life,  which  has  grown  altogether  too  simple.  One  wonders 
who  enjoyed  these  sermons.  Was  it  the  rich,  who  wished  to  think 
the  sufferings  of  the  poor  imaginary?  Or  was  it  the  new  poor, 
who  were  trying  to  despise  the  successful  business  man  ?  Or  was 
it  sycophants  who  persuaded  themselves  that  the  charity  they 
accepted  was  unimportant?  Teles  says  to  a  rich  man:  "You  give 
liberally  and  I  take  valiantly  from  you,  neither  grovelling  nor 
demeaning  myself  basely  nor  grumbling."2  A  very  convenient 
doctrine.  Popular  Cynicism  did  not  teach  abstinence  from  the  good 
things  of  this  world,  but  only  a  certain  indifference  to  them.  In 
the  case  of  a  borrower,  this  might  take  the  form  of  minimizing 
the  obligation  to  the  lender.  One  can  see  how  the  word  "cynic" 
acquired  its  everyday  meaning. 

What  was  best  in  the  Cynic  doctrine  passed  over  into  Stoicism, 
which  was  an  altogether  more  complete  and  rounded  philosophy. 

Scepticism,  as  a  doctrine  of  the  schools,  was  first  proclaimed 
by  Pyrrho,  who  was  in  Alexander's  army,  and  campaigned  with 
it  as  far  as  India.  It  seems  that  this  gave  him  a  sufficient  taste  of 
travel,  and  that  he  spent  the  rest  of  his  life  in  his  native  city,  Elis, 
where  he  died  in  275  B.C.  There  was  not  much  that  was  new  in 
his  doctrine,  beyond  a  certain  systematizing  and  formalizing  of 
older  doubts.  Scepticism  with  regard  to  the  senses  had  troubled 
Greek  philosophers  from  a  very  early  stage ;  the  only  exceptions 
were  those  who,  like  Parmenides  and  Plato,  denied  the  cognitive 
value  of  perception,  and  made  their  denial  into  an  opportunity 
for  an  intellectual  dogmatism.  The  Sophists,  notably  Protagoras 
and  Gorgias,  had  been  led  by  the  ambiguities  and  apparent  con- 
tradictions of  sense-perception  to  a  subjectivism  not  unlike  I  luine's. 
Pyrrho  seems  (for  he  very  wisely  wrote  no  books)  to  have  added 
moral  and  logical  scepticism  to  scepticism  as  to  the  senses.  He 
is  said  to  have  maintained  that  there  could  never  be  any  rational 
ground  for  preferring  one  course  of  action  to  another.  In  practice, 
this  meant  that  one  conformed  to  the  customs  of  whatever  country 
one  inhabited.  A  modem  disciple  would  go  to  church  on  Sundays 
and  perform  the  correct  genuflexions,  but  without  any  of  the 
religious  beliefs  that  are  supposed  to  inspire  these  actions.  Ancient 

1  The  Hellemstif  Age  (Cambridge,  1923),  p.  84  11. 
*  Ibid.,  p.  86. 


CYNICS   AND   SCEPTICS 

Sceptics  went  through  the  whole  pagan  ritual,  and  were  even 
sometimes  priests;  their  Scepticism  assured  them  that  this 
behaviour  could  not  be  proved  wrong,  and  their  common  sense 
(which  survived  their  philosophy)  assured  them  that  it  was  con- 
venient. 

Scepticism  naturally  made  an  appeal  to  many  unphilosophic 
minds.  People  observed  the  diversity  of  schools  and  the  acerbity 
of  their  disputes,  and  decided  that  all  alike  were  pretending  to 
knowledge  which  was  in  fact  unattainable.  Scepticism  was  a  lazy 
man's  consolation,  since  it  showed  the  ignorant  to  be  as  wise  as 
the  reputed  men  of  learning.  To  men  who,  by  temperament, 
required  a  gospel,  it  might  seem  unsatisfying,  but  like  every 
doctrine  of  the  Hellenistic  period  it  recommended  itself  as  an 
antidote  to  worry.  Why  trouble  about  the  future?  It  is  wholly 
uncertain.  You  may  as  well  enjoy  the  present;  "what's  to  come 
is  still  unsure/1  For  these  reasons,  Scepticism  enjoyed  a  con- 
siderable popular  success. 

It  should  be  observed  that  Scepticism  as  a  philosophy  is  not 
merely  doubt,  but  what  may  be  called  dogmatic  doubt.  The  man 
of  science  says  "I  think  it  is  so-and-so,  but  I  am  not  sure."  The 
man  of  intellectual  curiosity  says  "I  don't  know  how  it  is,  but  I 
hope  to  find  out."  The  philosophical  Sceptic  says  "nobody  knows, 
and  nobody  ever  can  know/'  It  is  this  element  of  dogmatism  that 
makes  the  system  vulnerable.  Sceptics,  of  course,  deny  that  they 
assert  the  impossibility  of  knowledge  dogmatically,  but  their 
denials  are  not  very  convincing. 

Pyrrho's  disciple  Timon,  however,  advanced  some  intellectual 
arguments  which,  from  the  standpoint  of  Greek  logic,  were  very 
hard  to  answer.  The  only  logic  admitted  by  the  Greeks  was  de- 
ductive, and  all  deduction  had  to  start,  like  Euclid,  from  general 
principles  regarded  as  self-evident.  Timon  denied  the  possibility 
of  finding  such  principles.  Everything*  therefore,  will  have  to  be 
proved  by  means  of  something  else,  and  all  argument  will  be 
either  circular  or  an  endless  chain  hanging  from  nothing.  In  either 
case  nothing  can  be  proved.  This  argument,  as  we  can  see,  cut 
at  the  root  of  the  Aristotelian  philosophy  which  dominated  the 
Middle  Ages. 

Some  forms  of  Scepticism  which,  in  our  own  day,  arc  advocated 
by  men  who  arc  by  no  means  wholly  sceptical,  had  not  occurred 
to  the  Sceptics  of  antiquity.  They  did  not  doubt  phenomena,  or 

//Mlur>  <>/ 


WESTERN   PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

question  propositions  which,  in  their  opinion,  only  expressed 
what  we  know  directly  concerning  phenomena.  Most  of  Timon's 
work  is  lost,  but  two  surviving  fragments  will  illustrate  this  point. 
One  says  "The  phenomenon  is  always  valid."  The  other  says: 
"That  honey  w  sweet  I  refuse  to  assert ;  that  it  appears  sweet,  I 
fully  grant."1  A  modern  Sceptic  would  point  out  that  the  pheno- 
menon merely  occurs,  and  is  not  either  valid  or  invalid;  what  is 
valid  or  invalid  must  be  a  statement,  and  no  statement  can  be  so 
closely  linked  to  the  phenomenon  as  to  be  incapable  of  falsehood. 
For  the  same  reason,  he  would  say  that  the  statement  "honey 
appears  sweet"  is  only  highly  probable,  not  absolutely  certain. 

In  some  respects,  the  doctrine  of  Timon  was  very  similar  to 
that  of  Hume.  He  maintained  that  something  which  had  never 
been  observed — atoms,  for  instance — could  not  be  validly  inferred ; 
but  when  two  phenomena  had  been  frequently  observed  together, 
one  could  be  inferred  fiom  the  other. 

Timon  lived  at  Athens  throughout  the  later  years  of  his  long 
life,  and  died  there  in  235  B.C.  With  his  death,  the  school  of 
Pyrrho,  as  a  school,  came  to  an  end,  but  his  doctrines,  somewhat 
modified,  were  taken  up,  strange  as  it  may  seem,  by  the  Academy, 
which  represented  the  Platonic  tradition. 

The  man  who  effected  this  surprising  philosophic  revolution 
was  Arcesilaus,  a  contemporary  of  Timon,  who  died  as  an  old 
man  about  240  B.C.  What  most  men  have  taken  from  Plato  is 
belief  in  a  supersensible  intellectual  world  and  in  the  superiority 
of  the  immortal  soul  to  the  mortal  body.  But  Plato  was  many- 
sided,  and  in  some  respects  could  be  regarded  as  teaching  scep- 
ticism. The  Platonic  Socrates  professes  to  know  nothing;  we 
naturally  treat  this  as  irony,  but  it  could  be  taken  seriously. 
Many  of  the  dialogues  reach  no  positive  conclusion,  and  aim  at 
leaving  the  reader  in  a  state  of  doubt.  Some — the  latter  half  of 
the  Parmenide*,  for  instance — might  seem  to  have  no  purpose 
except  to  show  that  either  side  of  any  question  can  be  maintained 
with  equal  plausibility.  The  Platonic  dialectic  could  be  treated 
as  an  end,  rather  than  a  means,  and  if  so  treated  it  lent  itself 
admirably  to  the  advocacy  of  Scepticism.  This  seems  to  have 
been  the  way  in  which  Arcesilaus  interpreted  the  man  whom  he 
still  professed  to  follow.  He  had  decapitated  Plato,  but  at  any  rate 
the  torso  that  remained  was  genuine. 

1  Quoted  by  Edwyn  Bevan,  Stoics  and  Sceptics,  p.  126. 


CYNICS   AND   SCEPTICS 

The  manner  in  which  Arcesilaus  taught  would  have  had  much 
to  commend  it,  if  the  young  men  who  learnt  from  him  had  been 
able  to  avoid  being  paralysed  by  it.  He  maintained  no  thesis,  but 
would  refute  any  thesis  set  up  by  a  pupil.  Sometimes  he  would 
himself  advance  two  contradictory  propositions  on  successive 
occasions,  showing  how  to  argue  convincingly  in  favour  of  either. 
A  pupil  sufficiently  vigorous  to  rebel  might  have  learnt  dexterity 
and  the  avoidance  of  fallacies ;  in  fact,  none  seem  to  have  learnt 
anything  except  cleverness  and  indifference  to  truth.  So  great 
was  the  influence  of  Arcesilaus  that  the  Academy  remained 
sceptical  for  about  two  hundred  years. 

In  the  middle  of  this  sceptical  period,  an  amusing  incident 
occurred.  Carneades,  a  worthy  successor  of  Arcesilaus  as  head  of 
the  Academy,  was  one  of  three  philosophers  sent  by  Athens  on 
a  diplomatic  mission  to  Rome  in  the  year  156  B.C.  He  saw  no 
reason  why  his  ambassadorial  dignity  should  interfere  with  the 
main  chance,  so  he  announced  a  course  of  lectures  in  Rome.  The 
young  men,  who,  at  that  time,  were  anxious  to  ape  Greek  manners 
and  acquire  Greek  culture,  flocked  to  hear  him.  His  first  lecture 
expounded  the  views  of  Aristotle  and  Plato  on  justice,  and  was 
thoroughly  edifying.  His  second,  however,  was  concerned  in 
refuting  all  that  he  had  said  in  his  first,  not  with  a  view  to  estab- 
lishing opposite  conclusions,  but  merely  to  show  that  every  con- 
clusion is  unwarranted.  Plato's  Socrates  had  argued  that  to  inflict 
injustice  was  a  greater  evil  to  the  perpetrator  than  to  suffer  it. 
Carneadcs,  in  his  second  lecture,  treated  this  contention  with 
scorn.  Great  States,  he  pointed  out,  had  become  great  by  unjust 
aggressions  against  their  weaker  neighbours;  in  Rome,  this  could 
not  well  be  denied.  In  a  shipwreck,  you  may  save  your  life  at  the 
expense  of  some  one  weaker,  and  you  are  a  fool  if  you  do  not. 
"Women  and  children  first,"  he  seems  to  think,  is  not  a  maxim 
that  leads  to  personal  survival.  What  would  you  do  if  you  were 
flying  from  a  victorious  enemy,  you  had  lost  your  horse,  but  you 
found  a  wounded  comrade  on  a  horse?  If  you  were  sensible,  you 
would  drag  him  off  and  seize  his  horse,  whatever  justice  might 
ordain.  All  this  not  very  edifying  argumentation  is  surprising  in 
a  nominal  follower  of  Plato,  but  it  seems  to  have  pleased  the 
modern-minded  Roman  youths. 

There  was  one  man  whom  it  did  not  please,  and  that  was  the 
Cato,  who  represented  the  stern,  stiff,  stupid,  and  brutal 


WESTERN   PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

moral  code  by  means  of  which  Rome  had  defeated  Carthage. 
From  youth  to  old  age,  he  lived  simply,  rose  early,  practised 
severe  manual  labour,  ate  only  coarse  food,  and  never  wore  a 
gown  that  cost  over  a  hundred  pence.  Towards  the  State  he  was 
scrupulously  honest,  avoiding  all  bribery  and  plunder.  He  exacted 
of  other  Romans  all  the  virtues  that  he  practised  himself,  and 
asserted  that  to  accuse  and  pursue  the  wicked  was  the  best  thing 
an  honest  man  could  do.  He  enforced,  as  far  as  he  could,  the  old 
Roman  severity  of  manners: 

"Cato  put  out  of  the  Senate  also,  one  Manilius,  who  was  in 
great  towardness  to  have  been  made  Consul  the  next  year  following, 
only  because  he  kissed  his  wife  too  lovingly  in  the  day  time,  and 
before  his  daughter:  and  reproving  him  for  it,  he  told  him,  his 
wife  never  kissed  him,  but  when  it  thundered."1 

When  he  was  in  power,  he  put  down  luxury  and  feasting.  He 
made  his  wife  suckle  not  only  her  own  children,  but  also  those  of 
his  slaves,  in  order  that,  having  been  nourished  by  the  same  milk, 
they  might  love  his  children.  When  his  slaves  were  too  old  to 
work,  he  sold  them  remorselessly.  He  insisted  that  his  slaves 
should  always  be  either  working  or  sleeping.  He  encouraged  his 
slaves  to  quarrel  with  each  other,  for  "he  could  not  abide  that 
they  should  be  friends."  When  a  slave  had  committed  a  grave 
fault,  he  would  call  in  his  other  slaves,  and  induce  them  to  condemn 
the  delinquent  to  death;  he  would  then  carry  out  the  sentence 
with  his  own  hands  in  the  presence  of  the  survivors. 

The  contrast  between  Cato  and  Carneades  was  very  complete: 
the  one  brutal  through  a  morality  that  was  too  strict  and  too 
traditional,  the  other  ignoble  through  a  morality  that  was  too 
lax  and  too  much  infected  with  the  social  dissolution  of  the 
Hellenistic  world. 

"Marcus  Cato,  even  from  the  beginning  that  young  men  began 
to  study  the  Greek  tongue,  and  that  it  grew  in  estimation  in  Rome, 
did  dislike  of  it:  fearing  lest  the  youth  of  Rome  that  were  desirous 
of  learning  and  eloquence,  would  utterly  give  over  the  honour  and 
glory  of  arms.  ...  So  lie  openly  found  fault  one  day  in  the 
Senate,  that  the  Ambassadors  were  long  there,  and  had  no  dis- 
patch :  considering  also  they  were  cunning  men,  and  could  easily 
persuade  what  they  would.  And  if  there  were  no  other  respect, 
this  only  might  persuade  them  to  determine  some  answer  for 
1  North's  Plutarch,  Lftto,  Marcus  Cato. 


CYNICS   AND   SCEPTICS 

them,  and  to  send  them  home  again  to  their  schools,  to  teach 
their  children  of  Greece,  and  to  let  alone  the  children  of  Rome, 
that  they  might  learn  to  obey  the  laws  and  the  Senate,  as  they 
had  done  before.  Now  he  spake  thus  to  the  Senate,  not  of  any 
private  ill  will  or  malice  he  bare  to  Carneades,  as  some  men 
thought:  but  because  he  generally  hated  philosophy."1 

The  Athenians,  in  Cato's  view,  were  a  lesser  breed  without  the 
law;  it  did  not  matter  if  they  were  degraded  by  the  shallow  soph- 
istries of  intellectuals,  but  the  Roman  youth  must  be  kept  puri- 
tanical, imperialistic,  ruthless,  and  stupid.  He  failed,  however; 
later  Romans,  while  retaining  many  of  his  vices,  adopted  those  of 
Carneades  also. 

The  next  head  of  the  Academy,  after  Carneades  (ca.  180  to 
ca.  no  B.C.),  was  a  Carthaginian  whose  real  name  was  Hasdrubal, 
but  who,  in  his  dealings  with  Greeks,  preferred  to  call  himself 
Clitomachus.  Unlike  Carneades,  who  confined  himself  to  lec- 
turing, Clitomachus  wrote  over  four  hundred  books,  some  of 
them  in  the  Phoenician  language.  His  principles  appear  to  have 
been  the  same  as  those  of  Carneades.  In  some  respects,  they  were 
useful.  These  two  Sceptics  set  themselves  against  the  belief  in 
divination,  magic,  and  astrology,  which  was  becoming  more  and 
more  widespread.  They  also  developed  a  constructive  doctrine, 
concerning  degrees  of  probability:  although  we  can  never  be 
justified  in  feeling  certainty,  some  things  are  more  likely  to  be 
true  than  others.  Probability  should  be  our  guide  in  practice,  since 
it  is  reasonable  to  act  on  the  most  probable  of  possible  hypo- 
theses. This  view  is  one  with  which  most  modern  philosophers 
would  agree.  Unfortunately,  the  books  setting  it  forth  are  lost,  and 
it  is  difficult  to  reconstruct  the  doctrine  from  the  hints  that  remain. 

After  Clitomachus,  the  Academy  ceased  to  be  sceptical,  and  from 
the  time  of  Antiochus  (who  died  in  69  B.C.)  its  doctrines  became, 
for  centuries,  practically  indistinguishable  from  those  of  the  Stoics. 

Scepticism,  however,  did  not  disappear.  It  was  revived  by  the 
Cretan  Aenesidemus,  who  came  from  Knossos,  where,  for  aught 
we  know,  there  may  have  been  Sceptics  two  thousand  years  earlier, 
entertaining  dissolute  courtiers  with  doubts  as  to  the  divinity  of 
the  mistress  of  animals.  The  date  of  Aenesidemus  is  uncertain. 
He  threw  over  the  doctrines  on  probability  advocated  by  Carneades, 
and  reverted  to  the  earliest  forms  of  Scepticism.  11  is  influence  was 
1  North's  Plutarch,  Ltvtt,  Marcus  Cato 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

considerable;  he  was  followed  by  the  satirist  Lucian  in  the  second 
century  A.D.,  and  also,  slightly  later,  by  Sextus  Empiricus,  the 
only  Sceptic  philosopher  of  antiquity  whose  works  survive.  There 
is,  for  example,  a  short  treatise,  "Arguments  Against  Belief  in  a 
God,"  translated  by  Edwyn  Bevan  in  his  Later  Greek  Religion, 
pp.  52-56,  and  said  by  him  to  be  probably  taken  by  Sextus 
Empiricus  from  Carneades,  as  reported  by  Clitomachus. 

This  treatise  begins  by  explaining  that,  in  behaviour,  the  Sceptics 
are  orthodox:  "We  sceptics  follow  in  practice  the  way  of  the  world, 
but  without  holding  any  opinion  about  it.  We  speak  of  the  Gods 
as  existing  and  offer  worship  to  the  Gods  and  say  that  they  exercise 
providence,  but  in  saying  this  we  express  no  belief,  and  avoid  the 
rashness  of  the  dogmatize rs." 

He  then  argues  that  people  differ  as  to  the  nature  of  God ;  for 
instance,  some  think  Him  corporeal,  some  incorporeal.  Since  we 
have  no  experience  of  Him,  we  cannot  know  His  attributes.  The 
existence  of  God  is  not  self-evident,  and  therefore  needs  proof. 
There  is  a  somewhat  confused  argument  to  show  that  no  such 
proof  is  possible.  He  next  takes  up  the  problem  of  evil,  and 
concludes  with  the  words: 

"Those  who  affirm  positively  that  God  exists  cannot  avoid  falling 
into  an  impiety.  For  if  they  say  that  God  controls  everything, 
they  make  Him  the  author  of  evil  things;  if,  on  the  other  hand, 
they  say  that  He  controls  some  things  only,  or  that  He  controls 
nothing,  they  are  compelled  to  make  God  cither  grudging  or 
impotent,  and  to  do  that  is  quite  obviously  an  impiety/' 

Scepticism,  while  it  continued  to  appeal  to  some  cultivated  indi- 
viduals until  somewhere  in  the  third  century  A.D.,  was  contrary 
to  the  temper  of  the  age,  which  was  turning  more  and  more  to 
dogmatic  religion  and  doctrines  of  salvation.  Scepticism  had 
enough  force  to  make  educated  men  dissatisfied  with  the  State 
religions,  but  it  had  nothing  positive,  even  in  the  purely  intellectual 
sphere,  to  offer  in  their  place.  From  the  Renaissance  onwards, 
theological  scepticism  has  been  supplemented,  in  most  of  its 
advocates,  by  an  enthusiastic  belief  in  science,  but  in  antiquity 
there  was  no  such  supplement  to  doubt.  Without  answering  the 
arguments  of  the  Sceptics,  the  ancient  world  turned  aside  from 
them.  The  Olympians  being  discredited,  the  way  was  left  clear 
for  an  invasion  of  oriental  religions,  which  competed  for  the 
favour  of  the  superstitious  until  the  triumph  of  Christianity. 

262 


Chapter  XXVII 
THE   EPICUREANS 

p  I  1HE  two  great  new  schools  of  the  Hellenistic  period,  the 
I  Stoics  and  Epicureans,  were  contemporaneous  in  their 
JL  foundation.  Their  founders,  Zeno  and  Epicurus,  were  born 
at  about  the  same  time,  and  settled  in  Athens  as  heads  of  their 
respective  sects  within  a  few  years  of  each  other.  It  is  therefore 
a  matter  of  taste  which  to  consider  first.  I  shall  begin  with  the 
Epicureans,  because  their  doctrines  were  fixed  once  for  all  by 
their  founder,  whereas  Stoicism  had  a  long  development, 
extending  as  far  as  the  Emperor  Marcus  Aurelius,  who  died 
in  A.D.  1 80. 

The  main  authority  for  the  life  of  Epicurus  is  Diogenes  Laertius, 
who  lived  in  the  third  century  A.D.  There  are,  however,  two  diffi- 
culties: first,  Diogenes  Laertius  is  himself  ready  to  accept  legends 
of  little  or  no  historical  value;  second,  part  of  his  Life  consists  in 
reporting  the  scandalous  accusations  brought  against  Epicurus  by 
the  Stoics,  and  it  is  not  always  clear  whether  he  is  asserting  some- 
thing himself  or  merely  mentioning  a  libel.  The  scandals  invented 
by  the  Stoics  are  facts  about  them,  to  be  remembered  when  their 
lofty  morality  is  praised;  but  they  are  not  facts  about  Epicurus. 
For  instance,  there  was  a  legend  that  his  mother  was  a  quack 
priestess,  as  to  which  Diogenes  says: 

"They  (apparently  the  Stoics)  say  that  he  used  to  go  round 
from  house  to  house  with  his  mother  reading  out  the  purification 
prayers,  and  assisted  his  father  in  elementary  teaching  for  a 
miserable  pittance." 

On  this  Bailey  comments:1  "If  there  is  any  truth  in  the  story 
that  he  went  about  with  his  mother  as  an  acolyte,  reciting  the 
formulae  of  her  incantations,  he  may  well  have  been  inspired  in 
quite  early  years  with  the  hatred  of  superstition,  which  was  after- 
wards so  prominent  a  feature  in  his  teaching."  This  theory  is 
attractive,  but,  in  view  of  the  extreme  unscrupulousness  of  later 
antiquity  in  inventing  a  scandal,  I  do  not  think  it  can  be  accepted 

1  The  Greek  Atomitts  and  Epicurus,  by  Cyril  Bailey,  Oxford,  1928, 
p.  221.  Mr.  Bailey  has  made  a  specialty  of  Epicurus,  and  his  book  is 
invaluable  to  the  student. 

•63 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

as  having  any  foundation.1  There  is  against  it  the  fact  that  he 
had  an  unusually  strong  affection  for  his  mother.2 

The  main  facts  of  the  life  of  Epicurus  seem,  however,  fairly 
certain.  His  father  was  a  poor  Athenian  colonist  in  Samos ;  Epi- 
curus was  born  in  342-1  B.C.,  but  whether  in  Samos  or  in  Attica 
is  not  known.  In  any  case,  his  boyhood  was  passed  in  Samos.  He 
states  that  he  took  to  the  study  of  philosophy  at  the  age  of  fourteen. 
At  the  age  of  eighteen,  about  the  time  of  Alexander's  death,  he 
went  to  Athens,  apparently  to  establish  his  citizenship,  but  while 
he  was  there  the  Athenian  colonists  were  turned  out  of  Samos 
(322  B.C.).  The  family  of  Epicurus  became  refugees  in  Asia  Minor, 
where  he  rejoined  them.  At  Taos,  either  at  this  time,  or  perhaps 
earlier,  he  was  taught  philosophy  by  a  certain  Nausiphanes, 
apparently  a  follower  of  Democritus.  Although  his  mature  philo- 
sophy owes  more  to  Democritus  than  to  any  other  philosopher, 
he  never  expressed  anything  but  contempt  for  Nausiphanes, 
whom  he  alluded  to  as  "The  Mollusc." 

In  the  year  311  he  founded  his  school,  which  was  first  in 
Mitylene,  then  in  Lampsacus,  and,  from  307  onwards,  in  Athens, 
where  he  died  in  270-1  B.C. 

After  the  hard  years  of  his  youth,  his  life  in  Athens  was  placid, 
and  was  only  troubled  by  his  ill  health.  He  had  a  house  and  a 
garden  (apparently  separate  from  the  house),  and  it  was  in  the 
garden  that  he  taught.  His  three  brothers,  and  some  others,  had 
been  members  of  his  school  from  the  first,  but  in  Athens  his 
community  was  increased,  not  only  by  philosophic  disciples,  but 
by  friends  and  their  children,  slaves  and  hetaerae.  These  last  were 
made  an  occasion  of  scandal  by  his  enemies,  but  apparently  quite 
unjustly.  He  had  a  very  exceptional  capacity  for  purely  human 
friendship,  and  wrote  pleasant  letters  to  the  young  children  of 
members  of  the  community.  He  did  not  practise  that  dignity  and 
reserve  in  the  expression  of  the  emotions  that  was  expected  of 
ancient  philosophers;  his  letters  are  amazingly  natural  and 
unaffected. 

The  life  of  the  community  was  very  simple,  partly  on  principle, 

1  The  Stoics  were  very  unjust  to  Epicurus.  Epictctus,  for  example, 
addressing  him,  says;  "This  is  the  life  of  which  you  pronounce  yourself 
worthy:  eating,  drinking,  copulation,  evacuation  and  snoring."  Book  II, 
chap,  n,  Ditcoune*  of  Epictctus. 

a  Gilbert  Murray,  Five  Stages,  p.  130 


THE   EPICUREANS 

and  partly  (no  doubt)  for  lack  of  money.  Their  food  and  drink 
was  mainly  bread  and  water,  which  Epicurus  found  quite  satis- 
fying. "I  am  thrilled  with  pleasure  in  the  body,"  he  says,  "when 
I  live  on  bread  and  water,  and  I  spit  on  luxurious  pleasures,  not 
for  their  own  sake,  but  because  of  the  inconveniences  that  follow 
them."  The  community  depended  financially,  at  least  in  part, 
on  voluntary  contributions.  "Send  me  some  preserved  cheese," 
he  writes,  "that  when  I  like,  I  may  have  a  feast."  To  another 
friend:  "Send  us  offerings  for  the  sustenance  of  our  holy  body 
on  behalf  of  yourself  and  your  children."  And  again:  "The  only 

contribution  I  require  is  that  which ordered  the  disciples  to 

send  me,  even  if  they  be  among  the  Hyperboreans.  I  wish  to 
receive  from  each  of  you  two  hundred  and  twenty  drachmae1  a 
year  and  no  more." 

Epicurus  suffered  all  his  life  from  bad  health,  but  learnt  to 
endure  it  with  great  fortitude.  It  was  he,  not  a  Stoic,  who  first 
maintained  that  a  man  could  be  happy  on  the  rack.  Two  letters 
written,  one  a  few  days  before  his  death,  the  other  on  the  day  of 
his  death,  show  that  he  had  some  right  to  this  opinion.  The  first 
says:  "Seven  days  before  writing  this  the  stoppage  became  com- 
plete and  I  suffered  pains  such  as  bring  men  to  their  last  day.  If 
anything  happens  to  me,  do  you  look  after  the  children  of  Metro- 
dorus  for  four  or  five  years,  but  do  not  spend  any  more  on  them 
than  you  now  spend  on  me."  The  second  says:  "On  this  truly 
happy  day  of  my  life,  as  I  am  at  the  point  of  death,  I  write  this 
to  you.  The  diseases  in  my  bladder  and  stomach  are  pursuing 
their  course,  lacking  nothing  of  their  usual  severity:  but  against 
all  this  is  the  joy  in  my  heart  at  the  recollection  of  my  conversa- 
tions with  you.  Do  you,  as  I  might  expect  from  your  devotion 
from  boyhood  to  me  and  to  philosophy,  take  good  care  of  the 
children  of  Metrodorus."  Metrodorus,  who  had  been  one  of  his 
first  disciples,  was  dead;  Epicurus  provided  for  his  children  in 
his  will. 

Although  Epicurus  was  gentle  and  kindly  towards  most  people, 
a  different  side  of  his  character  appeared  in  his  relations  to  philo- 
sophers, especially  those  to  whom  he  might  be  considered  in- 
debted. "I  suppose,"  he  says,  "that  these  grumblers  will  believe 
me  to  be  a  disciple  of  The  Mollusc  (Nausiphanes)  and  to  have 
listened  to  his  teaching  in  company  with  a  few  bibulous  youths. 
1  About  five  pounds. 

265 


WESTERN   PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

For  indeed  the  fellow  was  a  bad  man  and  his  habits  such  as 
could  never  lead  to  wisdom."1  He  never  acknowledged  the  extent 
of  his  indebtedness  to  Democritus,  and  as  for  Leucippus,  he 
asserted  that  there  was  no  such  philosopher — meaning,  no  doubt, 
not  that  there  was  no  such  man,  but  that  the  man  was  not  a 
philosopher.  Diogenes  Laertius  gives  a  whole  list  of  abusive 
epithets  that  he  is  supposed  to  have  applied  to  the  most  eminent 
of  his  predecessors.  With  this  lack  of  generosity  towards  other 
philosophers  goes  another  grave  fault,  that  of  dictatorial  dog- 
matism. His  followers  had  to  learn  a  kind  of  creed  embodying 
his  doctrines,  which  they  were  not  allowed  to  question.  To  the 
end,  none  of  them  added  or  modified  anything.  When  Lucretius, 
two  hundred  years  later,  turned  the  philosophy  of  Epicurus  into 
poetry,  he  added,  so  far  as  can  be  judged,  nothing  theoretical  to 
the  master's  teaching.  Wherever  comparison  is  possible,  Lucretius 
is  found  to  agree  closely  with  the  original,  and  it  is  generally 
held  that,  elsewhere,  he  may  be  used  to  fill  in  the  gaps  in  our 
knowledge  caused  by  the  loss  of  all  of  Epicurus's  three  hundred 
books.  Of  his  writings,  nothing  remains  except  a  few  letters,  some 
fragments,  and  a  statement  of  "Principal  Doctrines." 

The  philosophy  of  Epicurus,  like  all  those  of  his  age  (with  the 
partial  exception  of  Scepticism),  was  primarily  designed  to  secure 
tranquillity.  He  considered  pleasure  to  be  the  good,  and  adhered, 
with  remarkable  consistency*  to  all  the  consequences  of  this  view. 
"Pleasure,"  he  said,  "is  the  beginning  and  end  of  the  blessed  life.0 
Diogenes  Laertius  quotes  him  as  saying,  in  a  book  on  The  End  of 
Life,  "I  know  not  how  I  can  conceive  the  good,  if  I  withdraw  the 
pleasures  of  taste  and  withdraw  the  pleasures  of  love  and  those  of 
hearing  and  sight."  Again:  "The  beginning  and  the  root  of  all 
good  is  the  pleasure  of  the  stomach;  even  wisdom  and  culture 
must  be  referred  to  this."  The  pleasure  of  the  mind,  we  are  told, 
is  the  contemplation  of  pleasures  of  the  body.  Its  only  advantage 
over  bodily  pleasures  is  that  we  can  learn  to  contemplate  pleasure 
rather  than  pain,  and  thus  have  more  control  over  mental 
than  over  physical  pleasures.  "Virtue,"  unless  it  means  "pru- 
dence in  the  pursuit  of  pleasure,"  is  an  empty  name.  Justice,  for 
example,  consists  in  so  acting  as  not  to  have  occasion  to  fear 
other  men's  resentment — a  view  which  leads  to  a  doctrine 

1  The  Stoic  and  Epicurean  Philosophers,  by  W.  J.  Gates,  p.  47.  Whtre 
possible,  I  have  availed  myself  of  Mr.  Oates's  translations. 

266 


THE   EPICUREANS 

of  the  origin  of  society  not  unlike  the  theory  of  the  Social 
Contract. 

Epicurus  disagrees  with  some  of  his  hedonist  predecessors  in 
distinguishing  between  active  and  passive  pleasures,  or  dynamic 
and  static  pleasures.  Dynamic  pleasures  consist  in  the  attainment 
of  a  desired  end,  the  previous  desire  having  been  accompanied 
by  pain.  Static  pleasures  consist  in  a  state  of  equilibrium,  which 
results  from  the  existence  of  the  kind  of  state  of  affairs  that  would 
be  desired  if  it  were  absent.  I  think  one  may  say  that  the  satisfying 
of  hunger,  while  it  is  in  progress,  is  a  dynamic  pleasure,  but  the 
state  of  quiescence  which  supervenes  when  hunger  is  completely 
satisfied  is  a  static  pleasure.  Of  these  two  kinds,  Epicurus  holds  it 
more  prudent  to  pursue  the  second,  since  it  is  unalloyed,  and  does 
not  depend  upon  the  existence  of  pain  as  a  stimulus  to  desire. 
When  the  body  is  in  a  state  of  equilibrium,  there  is  no  pain;  we 
should,  therefore,  aim  at  equilibrium  and  the  quiet  pleasures 
rather  than  at  more  violent  joys.  Epicurus,  it  seems,  would  wish, 
if  it  were  possible,  to  be  always  in  the  state  of  having  eaten 
moderately,  never  in  that  of  voracious  desire  to  eat. 

He  is  thus  led,  in  practice,  to  regarding  absence  of  pain,  rather 
than  presence  of  pleasure,  as  the  wise  man's  goal.1  The  stomach 
may  be  at  the  root  of  things,  but  the  pains  of  stomach-ache  out- 
weigh the  pleasures  of  gluttony;  accordingly  Epicurus  lived  on 
bread,  with  a  little  cheese  on  feast  days.  Such  desires  as  those  for 
wealth  and  honour  are  futile,  because  they  make  a  man  restless 
when  he  might  be  contented. '  'The  greatest  good  of  all  is  prudence : 
it  is  a  more  precious  thing  even  than  philosophy."  Philosophy,  as 
he  understood  it,  was  a  practical  system  designed  to  secure  a 
happy  life;  it  required  only  common  sense,  not  logic  or  mathe- 
matics or  any  of  the  elaborate  training  prescribed  by  Plato.  He 
urges  his  young  disciple  and  friend  Pythodes  to  "flee  from  every 
form  of  culture."  It  was  a  natural  consequence  of  his  principles 
that  he  advised  abstinence  from  public  life,  for  in  proportion  as 
a  man  achieves  power  he  increases  the  number  of  those  who  envy 
him  and  therefore  wish  to  do  him  injury.  Even  if  he  escapes  out- 
ward misfortune,  peace  of  mind  is  impossible  in  such  a  situation. 
The  wise  man  will  try  to  live  unnoticed,  so  as  to  have  no  enemies. 

Sexual  love,  as  one  of  the  most  "dynamic11  of  pleasures,  naturally 

1  (For  Epicurus)  "Absence  of  pain  is  in  itself  pleasure,  indeed  in  his 
ultimate  analvsia  the  truest  pleasure.'1  Bailey,  op.  of.,  p.  349. 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

comes  under  the  ban.  "Sexual  intercourse,"  the  philosopher 
declares,  "has  never  done  a  man  good  and  he  is  lucky  if  it  has  not 
harmed  him."  He  was  fond  of  children  (other  people's),  but  for 
the  gratification  of  this  taste  he  seems  to  have  relied  upon  other 
people  not  to  follow  his  advice.  He  seems,  in  fact,  to  have  liked 
children  against  his  better  judgment ;  for  he  considered  marriage 
and  children  a  distraction  from  more  serious  pursuits.  Lucretius, 
who  follows  him  in  denouncing  love,  sees  no  harm  in  sexual 
intercourse  provided  it  is  divorced  from  passion. 

The  safest  of  social  pleasures,  in  the  opinion  of  Epicurus,  is 
friendship.  Epicurus,  like  Bentham,  is  a  man  who  considers  that 
all  men,  at  all  times,  pursue  only  their  own  pleasure,  sometimes 
wisely,  sometimes  unwisely;  but,  again  like  Bentham,  he  is  con- 
stantly seduced  by  his  own  kindly  and  affectionate  nature  into 
admirable  behaviour  from  which,  on  his  own  theories,  he  ought 
to  have  refrained.  He  obviously  liked  his  friends  without  regard 
to  what  he  got  out  of  them,  but  he  persuaded  himself  that  he  was 
as  selfish  as  his  philosophy  held  all  men  to  be.  According  to 
Cicero,  he  held  that  "friendship  cannot  be  divorced  from  pleasure, 
and  for  that  reason  must  be  cultivated,  because  without  it  neither 
can  we  live  in  safety  and  without  fear,  nor  even  pleasantly." 
Occasionally,  however,  he  forgets  his  theories  more  or  less:  "all 
friendship  is  desirable  in  itself,"  he  says,  adding  "though  it  starts 
from  the  need  of  help."1 

Epicurus,  though  his  ethic  seemed  to  others  swinish  and  lacking 
in  moral  exaltation,  was  very  much  in  earnest.  As  we  have  seen, 
he  speaks  of  the  community  in  the  garden  as  "our  holy  body"; 
he  wrote  a  book  On  Holiness ;  he  had  all  the  fervour  of  a  religious 
reformer.  He  must  have  had  a  strong  emotion  of  pity  for  the 
sufferings  of  mankind,  and  an  unshakeable  conviction  that  they 
would  be  greatly  lessened  if  men  would  adopt  his  philosophy.  It 
was  a  valetudinarian's  philosophy,  designed  to  suit  a  world  in 
which  adventurous  happiness  had  become  scarcely  possible.  Eat 
little,  for  fear  of  indigestion ;  drink  little,  for  fear  of  next  morning ; 
eschew  politics  and  love  and  all  violently  passionate  activities;  do 
not  give  hostages  to  fortune  by  marrying  and  having  children ;  in 
your  mental  life,  teach  yourself  to  contemplate  pleasures  rather 
than  pains.  Physical  pain  is  certainly  a  great  evil,  but  if  severe, 

1  On  the  subject  of  friendship  and  Epicurus's  amiable  inconsistency, 
see  Bailey,  op.  cit.,  pp.  517-20. 

268 


THE    EPICUREANS 

it  is  brief,  and  if  prolonged,  it  can  be  endured. by  means  of  mental 
discipline  and  the  habit  of  thinking  of  happy  things  in  spite  of  it. 
Above  all,  live  so  as  to  avoid  fear. 

It  was  through  the  problem  of  avoiding  fear  that  Epicurus  was 
led  into  theoretical  philosophy.  He  held  that  two  of  the  greatest 
sources  of  fear  were  religion  and  the  dread  of  death,  which  were 
connected,  since  religion  encouraged  the  view  that  the  dead  are 
unhappy.  He  therefore  sought  a  metaphysic  which  would  prove 
that  the  gods  do  not  interfere  in  human  affairs,  and  that  the  soul 
perishes  with  the  body.  Most  modern  people  think  of  religion  as 
a  consolation,  but  to  Epicurus  it  was  the  opposite.  Supernatural 
interference  with  the  course  of  nature  seemed  to  him  a  source  of 
terror,  and  immortality  fatal  to  the  hope  of  release  from  pain. 
Accordingly  he  constructed  an  elaborate  doctrine  designed  to 
cure  men  of  the  beliefs  that  inspire  fear. 

Epicurus  was  a  materialist,  but  not  a  determinist.  He  followed 
Democritus  in  believing  that  the  world  consists  of  atoms  and  the 
void;  but  he  did  not  believe,  as  Democritus  did,  that  the  atoms  are 
at  all  times  completely  controlled  by  natural  laws.  The  conception 
of  necessity  in  Greece  was,  as  we  have  seen,  religious  in  origin, 
and  perhaps  he  was  right  in  considering  that  an  attack  on  religion 
would  be  incomplete  if  it  allowed  necessity  to  survive.  His  atoms 
had  weight,  and  were  continually  falling;  not  towards  the  centre 
of  the  earth,  but  downwards  in  some  absolute  sense.  Every  now 
and  then,  however,  an  atom,  actuated  by  something  like  free  will, 
would  swerve  slightly  from  the  direct  downward  path,1  and  so 
would  come  into  collision  with  some  other  atom.  From  this  point 
onwards,  the  development  of  vortices,  etc.,  proceeded  in  much  the 
same  way  as  in  Democritus.  The  soul  is  material,  and  is  composed 
of  particles  like  those  of  breath  and  heat.  (Epicurus  thought 
breath  and  wind  different  in  substance  from  air;  they  were  not 
merely  air  in  motion.)  Soul-atoms  are  distributed  throughout  the 
body.  Sensation  is  due  to  thin  films  thrown  off  by  bodies  and 
travelling  on  until  they  touch  soul-atoms.  These  films  may  still 
exist  when  the  bodies  from  which  they  originally  proceeded  have 
been  dissolved;  this  accounts  for  dreams.  At  death,  the  soul  is 
dispersed,  and  its  atoms,  which  of  course  survive,  are  no  longer 
capable  of  sensation,  because  they  are  no  longer  connected  with 

1  An  analogous  view  is  urged  in  our  day  by  Eddtngton,  in  his  inter- 
pretation of  the  principle  of  indeterminacy. 

369 


WESTERN   PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

the  body.  It  follows,  in  the  words  of  Epicurus,  that  "Death  is 
nothing  to  us;  for  that  which  is  dissolved,  is  without  sensation, 
and  that  which  lacks  sensation  is  nothing  to  us." 

As  for  the  gods,  Epicurus  firmly  believes  in  their  existence, 
since  he  cannot  otherwise  account  for  the  widespread  existence 
of  the  idea  of  gods.  But  he  is  persuaded  that  they  do  not  trouble 
themselves  with  the  affairs  of  our  human  world.  They  are  rational 
hedonists,  who  follow  his  precepts,  and  abstain  from  public  life; 
government  would  be  an  unnecessary  labour,  to  which,  in  their 
life  of  complete  blessedness,  they  feel  no  temptation.  Of  course, 
divination  and  augury  and  all  such  practices  are  purely  super- 
stitious, and  so  is  the  belief  in  Providence. 

There  is  therefore  no  ground  for  the  fear  that  we  may  incur  the 
anger  of  the  gods,  or  that  we  may  suffer  in  Hades  after  death. 
Though  subject  to  the  powers  of  nature,  which  can  be  studied 
scientifically,  we  yet  have  free  will,  and  are,  within  limits,  the 
masters  of  our  fate.  We  cannot  escape  death,  but  death,  rightly 
understood,  is  no  evil.  If  we  live  prudently,  according  to  the 
maxims  of  Epicurus,  we  shall  probably  achieve  a  measure  of 
freedom  from  pain.  This  is  a  moderate  gospel,  but  to  a  man 
impressed  with  human  misery  it  sufficed  to  inspire  enthusiasm 

Epicurus  has  no  interest  in  science  on  its  own  account ;  he  values 
it  solely  as  providing  naturalistic  explanations  of  phenomena  which 
superstition  attributes  to  the  agency  of  the  gods.  When  there  are 
several  possible  naturalistic  explanations,  he  holds  that  there  is  no 
point  in  trying  to  decide  between  them.  The  phases  of  the  moon, 
for  example,  have  been  explained  in  many  different  ways;  any 
one  of  these,  so  long  as  it  does  not  bring  in  the  gods,  is  as  good  as 
any  other,  and  it  would  be  idle  curiosity  to  attempt  to  determine 
which  of  them  is  true.  It  is  no  wonder  that  the  Epicureans  con- 
tributed practically  nothing  to  natural  knowledge.  They  served  a 
useful  purpose  by  their  protest  against  the  increasing  devotion  of 
the  later  pagans  to  magic,  astrology,  and  divination ;  but  they  re- 
mained, like  their  founder,  dogmatic,  limited,  and  without  genuine 
interest  in  anything  outside  individual  happiness.  They  learnt  by 
heart  the  creed  of  Epicurus,  and  added  nothing  to  it  throughout 
the  centuries  during  which  the  school  survived. 

The  only  eminent  disciple  of  Epicurus  is  the  poet  Lucretius 
(99-55  B.C.),  who  was  a  contemporary  of  Julius  Caesar.  In  the 
last  days  of  the  Roman  Republic,  free  thought  was  the  fashion, 

270 


THE   EPICUREANS 

and  the  doctrines  of  Epicurus  were  popular  among  educated 
people.  The  Emperor  Augustus  introduced  an  archaistic  revival 
of  ancient  virtue  and  ancient  religion,  which  caused  the  poem  of 
Lucretius  On  the  Nature  of  Things  to  become  unpopular,  and  it 
remained  so  until  the  Renaissance.  Only  one  manuscript  of  it 
survived  die  Middle  Ages,  and  that  narrowly  escaped  destruction 
by  bigots.  Hardly  any  great  poet  has  had  to  wait  so  long  for 
recognition,  but  in  modern  times  his  merits  have  been  almost 
universally  acknowledged.  For  example,  he  and  Benjamin  Franklin 
were  Shelley's  favourite  authors. 

His  poem  sets  forth  in  verse  the  philosophy  of  Epicurus.  Al- 
though the  two  men  have  the  same  doctrine,  their  temperaments 
are  very  different.  Lucretius  was  passionate,  and  much  more  in 
need  of  exhortations  to  prudence  than  Epicurus  was.  He  com- 
mitted suicide,  and  appears  to  have  suffered  from  periodic  insanity 
— brought  on,  so  some  averred,  by  the  pains  of  love  or  the  un- 
intended effects  of  a  love  philtre.  He  feels  towards  Epicurus  as 
towards  a  saviour,  and  applies  language  of  religious  intensity  to 
the  man  whom  he  regards  as  the  destroyer  of  religion:1 

When  prostrate  upon  earth  lay  human  life 
Visibly  trampled  down  and  foully  crushed 
Beneath  Religion's  cruelty,  who  meanwhile 
Out  of  the  regions  of  the  heavens  above 
Showed  forth  her  face,  lowering  on  mortal  men 
With  horrible  aspect,  first  did  a  man  of  Greece 
Dare  to  lift  up  his  mortal  eyes  against  her; 
The  first  was  he  to  stand  up  and  defy  her. 
Him  neither  stories  of  the  gods,  nor  lightnings, 
Nor  heaven  with  muttering  menaces  could  quell, 
But  all  the  more  did  they  arouse  his  soul's 
Keen  valour,  till  he  longed  to  be  the  first 
To  break  through  the  fast-bolted  doors  of  Nature. 
Therefore  his  fervent  energy  of  mind 
Prevailed,  and  he  passed  onward,  voyaging  far 
Beyond  the  flaming  ramparts  of  the  world, 
Ranging  in  mind  and  spirit  far  and  wide 
Throughout  the  unmeasured  universe ;  and  thence 
A  conqueror  he  returns  to  us,  bringing  back 
Knowledge  both  of  what  can  and  what  cannot 
Rise  into  being,  teaching  us  in  fine 

1  1  quote  the  translation  of  Mr.  R.  C.  Trevelyan,  Book  1, 60-79. 

271 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL    THOUGHT 

Upon  what  principle  each  thing  has  its  powers 
Limited,  and  its  deep-set  boundary  stone. 
Therefore  now  has  Religion  been  cast  down 
Beneath  men's  feet,  and  trampled  on  in  turn: 
Ourselves  heaven-high  his  victory  exalts. 

The  hatred  of  religion  expressed  by  Epicurus  and  Lucretius  is 
not  altogether  easy  to  understand,  if  one  accepts  the  conventional 
accounts  of  the  cheerfulness  of  Greek  religion  and  ritual.  Keats 's 
Ode  on  a  Grecian  Urn,  for  instance,  celebrates  a  religious  ceremony, 
but  not  one  which  could  fill  men's  minds  with  dark  and  gloomy 
terrors.  I  think  popular  beliefs  were  very  largely  not  of  this  cheerful 
kind.  The  worship  of  the  Olympians  had  less  of  superstitious 
cruelty  than  the  other  forms  of  Greek  religion,  but  even  the 
Olympian  gods  had  demanded  occasional  human  sacrifice  until 
the  seventh  or  sixth  century  B.C.,  and  this  practice  was  recorded 
in  myth  and  drama.1  Throughout  the  barbarian  world,  human 
sacrifice  was  still  recognized  in  the  time  of  Epicurus;  until  the 
Roman  conquest,  it  was  practised  in  times  of  crisis,  such  as  the 
Punic  Wars,  by  even  the  most  civilized  of  barbarian  populations. 

As  was  shown  most  convincingly  by  Jane  Harrison,  the  Greeks 
had,  in  addition  to  the  official  cults  of  Zeus  and  his  family,  other 
more  primitive  beliefs  associated  with  more  or  less  barbarous  rites. 
These  were  to  some  extent  incorporated  in  Orphism,  which 
became  the  prevalent  belief  among  men  of  religious  temperament. 
It  is  sometimes  supposed  that  Hell  was  a  Christian  invention,  but 
this  is  a  mistake.  What  Christianity  did  in  this  respect  was  only 
to  systematize  earlier  popular  beliefs.  From  the  beginning  of  Plato's 
Republic  it  is  clear  that  the  fear  of  punishment  after  death  was 
common  in  fifth-century  Athens,  and  it  is  not  likely  that  it  grew 
less  in  the  interval  between  Socrates  and  Epicurus.  (I  am  thinking 
not  of  the  educated  minority,  but  of  the  general  population.) 
Certainly,  also,  it  was  common  to  attribute  plagues,  earthquakes, 
defeats  in  war,  and  such  calamities,  to  divine  displeasure  or  to 
failure  to  respect  the  omens.  I  think  that  Greek  literature  and  art 
are  probably  very  misleading  as  regards  popular  beliefs.  What 
should  we  know  of  Methodism  in  the  late  eighteenth  century  if 
no  record  of  the  period  survived  except  its  aristocratic  books  and 
paintings?  The  influence  of  Methodism,  like  that  of  religiosity  in 

1  Lucretius  instances  the  sacrifice  of  Iphigcnia  as  an  example  of  the 
harm  wrought  by  religion.  Book  I,  85-100. 

272 


THE   EPICUREANS 

the  Hellenistic  age,  rose  from  below;  it  was  already  powerful  in 
the  time  of  Boswell  and  Sir  Joshua  Reynolds,  although  from  their 
allusions  to  it  the  strength  of  its  influence  is  not  apparent.  We 
must  not,  therefore,  judge  of  popular  religion  in  Greece  by  the 
pictures  on  "Grecian  Urns"  or  by  the  works  of  poets  and  aristo- 
cratic philosophers.  Epicurus  was  not  aristocratic,  either  by  birth 
or  through  his  associates;  perhaps  this  explains  his  exceptional 
hostility  to  religion. 

It  is  through  the  poem  of  Lucretius  that  the  philosophy  of  Epi- 
curus has  chiefly  become  known  to  readers  since  the  Renaissance. 
What  has  most  impressed  them,  when  they  were  not  professional 
philosophers,  is  the  contrast  with  Christian  belief  in  such  matters 
as  materialism,  denial  of  Providence,  and  rejection  of  immortality. 
What  is  especially  striking  to  a  modern  reader  is  to  have  these 
views — which,  nowadays,  are  generally  regarded  as  gloomy  and 
depressing — presented  as  a  gospel  of  liberation  from  the  burden 
of  fear.  Lucretius  is  as  firmly  persuaded  as  any  Christian  of  the 
importance  of  true  belief  in  matters  of  religion.  After  describing 
how  men  seek  escape  from  themselves  when  they  are  the  victims 
of  an  inner  conflict,  and  vainly  seek  relief  in  change  of  place, 
he  says:1 

Each  man  flies  from  his  own  self; 
Yet  from  that  self  in  fact  he  has  no  power 
To  escape:  he  clings  to  it  in  his  own  despite, 
And  loathes  it  too,  because,  though  he  is  sick, 
He  perceives  not  the  cause  of  his  disease. 
Which  if  he  could  but  comprehend  aright, 
Each  would  put  all  things  else  aside  and  first 
Study  to  learn  the  nature  of  the  world, 
Since  'tis  our  state  during  eternal  time, 
Not  for  one  hour  merely,  that  is  in  doubt, 
That  state  wherein  mortals  will  have  to  pass 
The  whole  time  that  awaits  them  after  death. 

The  age  of  Epicurus  was  a  wean'  age,  and  extinction  could 
appear  as  a  welcome  rest  from  travail  of  spirit.  The  last  age  of 
the  Republic,  on  the  contrary,  was  not,  to  most  Romans,  a  time 
of  disillusionment:  men  of  titanic  energy  were  creating  out  of 
chaos  a  new  order,  which  the  Macedonians  had  failed  to  do.  But 
to  the  Roman  aristocrat  who  stood  aside  from  politics,  and  cared 

1  Book  III,  1068-76.  I  again  quote  Mr.  R.  C.  Trevelyan's  translation. 

273 


WESTERN   PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

nothing  for  the  scramble  for  power  and  plunder,  the  course  of 
events  must  have  been  profoundly  discouraging.  When  to  this 
was  added  the  affliction  of  recurrent  insanity,  it  is  not  to  be 
wondered  at  that  Lucretius  accepted  the  hope  of  non-existence 
as  a  deliverance. 

But  the  fear  of  death  is  so  deeply  rooted  in  instinct  that  the 
gospel  of  Epicurus  could  not,  at  any  time,  make  a  wide  popular 
appeal;  it  remained  always  the  creed  of  a  cultivated  minority. 
Even  among  philosophers,  after  the  time  of  Augustus,  it  was,  as 
a  rule,  rejected  in  favour  of  Stoicism.  It  survived,  it  is  true,  though 
with  diminishing  vigour,  for  six  hundred  years  after  the  death  of 
Epicurus;  but  as  men  became  increasingly  oppressed  by  the 
miseries  of  our  terrestrial  existence,  they  demanded  continually 
stronger  medicine  from  philosophy  or  religion.  The  philosophers 
took  refuge,  with  few  exceptions,  in  Neoplatonism ;  the  uneducated 
turned  to  various  Eastern  superstitions,  and  then,  in  continually 
increasing  numbers,  to  Christianity,  which,  in  its  early  form, 
placed  all  good  in  the  life  beyond  the  grave,  thus  offering  men  a 
gospel  which  was  the  exact  opposite  of  that  of  Kpicurus.  Doc- 
trines very  similar  to  his,  however,  were  revived  by  the  French 
philosophes  at  the  end  of  the  eighteenth  century,  and  brought  to 
England  by  Bentham  and  his  followers;  this  was  done  in  conscious 
opposition  to  Christianity,  which  these  men  regarded  as  hostilcly 
as  Epicurus  regarded  the  religions  of  his  day. 


Chapter  XXVIII 
STOICISM 

STOICISM,  while  in  origin  contemporaneous  with  Epicurean- 
ism, had  a  longer  history  and  less  constancy  in  doctrine. 
The  teaching  of  its  founder  Zeno,  in  the  early  part  of  the 
third  century  B.C.,  was  by  no  means  identical  with  that  of  Marcus 
Aurelius  in  the  latter  half  of  the  second  century  A.D.  Zeno  was  a 
materialist,  whose  doctrines  were,  in  the  main,  a  combination  of 
Cynicism  and  Heraclitus;  but  gradually,  through  an  admixture 
of  Platonism,  the  Stoics  abandoned  materialism,  until,  in  the  end, 
little  trace  of  it  remained.  Their  ethical  doctrine,  it  is  true,  changed 
very  little,  and  was  what  most  of  them  regarded  as  of  the  chief 
importance.  liven  in  this  respect,  however,  there  is  some  change 
of  emphasis.  As  time  goes  on,  continually  less  is  said  about  the 
other  aspects  of  Stoicism,  and  continually  more  exclusive  stress 
is  laid  upon  ethics  and  those  parts  of  theology  that  are  most 
relevant  to  ethics.  With  regard  to  all  the  earlier  Stoics,  we  are 
hampered  by  the  fact  that  their  works  survive  only  in  a  few  frag- 
ments. Seneca,  Kpictetus,  and  Marcus  Aurelius,  who  belong  to 
the  first  and  second  centuries  A.D.,  alone  survive  in  complete 
books. 

Stoicism  is  less  Greek  than  any  school  of  philosophy  with  which 
we  have  been  hitherto  concerned.  The  early  Stoics  were  mostly 
Syrian,  the  later  ones  mostly  Roman.  Tarn  (Hellenistic  Civilization, 
p.  287)  suspects  Chaldean  influences  in  Stoicism.  Uebenveg  justly 
observes  that,  in  Hcllenizing  the  barbarian  world,  the  Greeks 
dropped  what  only  suited  themselves.  Stoicism,  unlike  the  earlier 
purely  Greek  philosophies,  is  emotionally  narrow,  and  in  a  certain 
sense  fanatical ;  but  it  also  contains  religious  elements  of  which 
the  world  felt  the  need,  and  which  the  Greeks  seemed  unable  to 
supply.  In  particular,  it  appealed  to  rulers:  "nearly  all  the  suc- 
cessors of  Alexander — we  may  say  all  the  principal  kings  in 
existence  in  the  generations  following  Zeno— professed  themselves 
Stoics,"  says  Professor  Gilbert  Murray. 

Zeno  was  a  Phoenician,  born  at  Citium,  in  Cyprus,  at  some  time 
during  the  latter  half  of  the  fourth  century  B.C.  It  seems  probable 
that  his  family  were  engaged  in  commerce,  and  that  business 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL    THOUGHT 

interests  were  what  first  took  him  to  Athens.  When  there,  however, 
he  became  anxious  to  study  philosophy.  The  views  of  the  Cynics 
were  more  congenial  to  him  than  those  of  any  other  school,  but 
he  was  something  of  an  eclectic.  The  followers  of  Plato  accused 
him  of  plagiarizing  the  Academy.  Socrates  was  the  chief  saint  of 
the  Stoics  throughout  their  history;  his  attitude  at  the  time  of 
his  trial,  his  refusal  to  escape,  his  calmness  in  the  face  of  death, 
and  his  contention  that  the  perpetrator  of  injustice  injures  himself 
more  than  his  victim,  all  fined  in  perfectly  with  Stoic  teaching. 
So  did  his  indifference  to  heat  and  cold,  his  plainness  in  matters 
of  food  and  dress,  and  his  complete  independence  of  all  bodily 
comforts.  But  the  Stoics  never  took  over  Plato1*  doctrine  of  ideas, 
and  most  of  them  rejected  his  arguments  for  immortality.  Only 
the  later  Stoics  followed  him  in  regarding  the  soul  as  immaterial ; 
the  earlier  Stoics  agreed  with  Heraclitus  in  the  view  that  the  soul 
is  composed  of  material  fire.  Verbally,  this  doctrine  is  also  to  be 
found  in  Epictetus  and  Marcus  Aurelius,  but  it  seems  that  in 
them  the  fire  is  not  to  be  taken  literally  as  one  of  the  four  elements 
of  which  physical  things  are  composed. 

Zcno  had  no  patience  with  metaphysical  subtleties.  Virtue  was 
what  he  thought  important,  and  he  only  valued  physics  and  meta- 
physics in  so  far  as  they  contributed  to  virtue.  He  attempted  to 
combat  the  metaphysical  tendencies  of  the  age  by  means  of 
common  sense,  which,  in  Greece,  meant  materialism.  Doubts  as 
to  the  trustworthiness  of  the  senses  annoyed  him,  and  he  pushed 
the  opposite  doctrine  to  extremes. 

"Zeno  began  by  asserting  the  existence  of  the  real  world.  'What 
do  you  mean  by  real  ?'  asked  the  Sceptic.  'I  mean  solid  and  material. 
I  mean  that  this  table  is  solid  matter/  'And  God/  asked  the 
Sceptic,  'and  the  Soul?'  'Perfectly  solid/  said  Zeno,  'more  solid, 
if  anything,  than  the  table.'  'And  virtue  or  justice  or  the  Rule  of 
Three;  also  solid  matter?'  4Of  course,'  said  Zeno,  'quite  solid/  "' 

It  is  evident  that,  at  this  point,  Zeno,  like  many  others,  was 
hurried  by  anti-metaphysical  zeal  into  a  metaphysic  of  his  own. 

The  main  doctrines  to  which  the  school  remained  constant 
throughout  are  concerned  with  cosmic  determinism  and  human 
freedom.  Zeno  believed  that  there  is  no  such  thing  as  chance,  and 
that  the  course  of  nature  is  rigidly  determined  by  natural  laws. 
Originally  there  was  only  fire;  then  the  other  elements — air,  water. 

1  Gilbert  Murray,  The  Stoic  Philosophy  (1915),  P.  as- 
276 


STOICISM 

earth,  in  that  order — gradually  emerged.  But  sooner  or  later  there 
will  be  a  cosmic  conflagration,  and  all  will  again  become  fire.  This, 
according  to  most  Stoics,  is  not  a  final  consummation,  like  the 
end  of  the  world  in  Christian  doctrine,  but  only  the  conclusion 
of  a  cycle;  the  whole  process  will  be  repeated  endlessly.  Every- 
thing that  happens  has  happened  before,  and  will  happen  again, 
not  once,  but  countless  times. 

So  far,  the  doctrine  might  seem  cheerless,  and  in  no  respect 
more  comforting  than  ordinary  materialism  such  as  that  of  Demo- 
critus.  But  this  was  only  one  aspect  of  it.  The  course  of  nature,  in 
Stoicism  as  in  eighteenth-century  theology,  was  ordained  by  a 
Lawgiver  who  was  also  a  beneficent  Providence.  Down  to  the 
smallest  detail,  the  whole  was  designed  to  secure  certain  ends  by 
natural  means.  These  ends,  except  in  so  far  as  they  concern  gods 
and  daemons,  are  to  be  found  in  the  life  of  man.  Everything  has  a 
purpose  connected  with  human  beings.  Some  animals  are  good 
to  eat,  some  afford  tests  of  courage;  even  bed  bugs  are  useful, 
since  they  help  us  to  wake  in  the  morning  and  not  lie  in  bed  too 
long.  The  supreme  Power  is  called  sometimes  God,  sometimes 
Zeus.  Seneca  distinguished  this  Zeus  from  the  object  of  popular 
belief,  who  was  also  real,  but  subordinate. 

God  is  not  separate  from  the  world ;  He  is  the  soul  of  the  world, 
and  each  of  us  contains  a  part  of  the  Divine  Fire.  All  things  are 
parts  of  one  single  system,  which  is  called  Nature;  the  individual 
life  is  good  when  it  is  in  harmony  with  Nature.  In  one  sense,  every 
life  is  in  harmony  with  Nature,  since  it  is  such  as  Nature's  laws 
have  caused  it  to  be ;  but  in  another  sense  a  human  life  is  only  in 
harmony  with  Nature  when  the  individual  will  is  directed  to  ends 
which  are  among  those  of  Nature.  Virtue  consists  in  a  will  which 
is  in  agreement  with  Nature.  The  wicked,  though  perforce  they 
obey  God's  law,  do  so  involuntarily;  in  the  simile  of  Cleanthes, 
they  are  like  a  dog  tied  to  a  cart,  and  compelled  to  go  wherever 
it  goes. 

In  the  life  of  an  individual  man,  virtue  is  the  sole  good;  such 
things  as  health,  happiness,  possessions,  are  of  no  account.  Since 
virtue  resides  in  the  will,  everything  really  good  or  bad  in  a  man's 
life  depends  only  upon  himself.  He  may  become  poor,  but  what 
of  it?  He  can  still  be  virtuous.  A  tyrant  may  put  him  in  prison, 
but  he  can  still  persevere  in  living  in  harmony  with  Nature.  He 
may  be  sentenced  to  death,  but  he  can  die  nobly,  like  Socrates. 


WESTERN   PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

Other  men  have  power  only  over  externals;  virtue,  which  alone 
is  truly  good,  rests  entirely  with  the  individual.  Therefore  every 
man  has  perfect  freedom,  provided  he  emancipates  himself  from 
mundane  desires.  It  is  only  through  false  judgments  that  such 
desires  prevail;  the  sage  whose  judgments  are  true  is  master  of 
his  fate  in  all  that  he  values,  since  no  outside  force  can  deprive 
him  of  virtue. 

There  are  obvious  logical  difficulties  about  this  doctrine.  II 
virtue  is  really  the  sole  good,  a  beneficent  Providence  must  be 
solely  concerned  to  cause  virtue,  yet  the  laws  of  Nature  have 
produced  abundance  of  sinners.  If  virtue  is  the  sole  good,  there 
can  be  no  reason  against  cruelty  and  injustice,  since,  as  the  Stoics 
are  never  tired  of  pointing  out,  cruelty  and  injustice  afford  the 
sufferer  the  best  opportunities  for  the  exercise  of  virtue.  If  the 
world  is  completely  deterministic,  natural  laws  will  decide  whether 
I  shall  be  virtuous  or  not.  If  I  am  wicked,  Nature  compels  me  to 
be  wicked,  and  the  freedom  which  virtue  is  supposed  to  give  is 
not  possible  for  me. 

To  a  modern  mind,  it  is  difficult  to  feel  enthusiastic  about  a 
virtuous  life  if  nothing  is  going  to  be  achieved  by  it.  We  admire  a 
medical  man  who  risks  his  life  in  an  epidemic  of  plague,  because 
we  think  illness  is  an  evil,  and  we  hope  to  diminish  its  frequency. 
But  if  illness  is  no  evil,  the  medical  man  might  as  well  stay  com- 
fortably at  home.  To  the  Stoic,  his  virtue  is  an  end  it  itself,  not 
something  that  does  good.  And  when  we  take  a  longer  view,  what 
is  the  ultimate  outcome?  A  destruction  of  the  present  world  by 
fire,  and  then  a  repetition  of  the  whole  process.  Could  anything 
be  more  devastatingly  futile?  There  may  be  progress  here  and 
there,  for  a  time,  but  in  the  long  run  there  is  only  recurrence. 
When  we  see  something  unbearably  painful,  we  hope  that  in 
time  such  things  will  cease  to  happen ;  but  the  Stoic  assures  us 
that  what  is  happening  now  will  happen  over  and  over  again. 
Providence,  which  sees  the  whole,  must,  one  would  think,  ulti- 
mately grow  weary  through  despair. 

There  goes  with  this  a  certain  coldness  in  the  Stoic  conception 
of  virtue.  Not  only  bad  passions  are  condemned,  but  all  passions. 
The  $age  does  not  feel  sympathy ;  when  his  wife  or  hift  children 
die,  he  reflects  that  this  event  is  no  obstacle  to  his  own  virtue, 
and  therefore  he  does  not  suffer  deeply.  Friendship,  so  highly 
prized  by  Epicurus,  is  all  very  well,  but  it  must  not  be  carried  to 

278 


STOICISM 

the  point  where  your  friend's  misfortunes  can  destroy  your  holy 
calm.  As  for  public  life,  it  may  be  your  duty  to  engage  in  it,  since 
it  gives  opportunities  for  justice,  fortitude,  and  so  on;  but  you 
must  not  be  actuated  by  a  desire  to  benefit  mankind,  since  the 
benefits  you  can  confer — such  as  peace,  or  a  more  adequate  supply 
of  food — are  no  true  benefits,  and,  in  any  case,  nothing  matters 
to  you  except  your  own  virtue.  The  Stoic  is  not  virtuous  in  order 
to  do  good,  but  does  good  in  order  to  be  virtuous.  It  has  not 
occurred  to  him  to  love  his  neighbour  as  himself;  love,  except  in 
a  superficial  sense,  is  absent  from  his  conception  of  virtue. 

When  I  say  this,  I  am  thinking  of  love  as  an  emotion,  not  as  a 
principle.  As  a  principle,  the  Stoics  preached  universal  love;  this 
principle  is  found  in  Seneca  and  his  successors,  and  probably  was 
taken  by  them  from  earlier  Stoics.  The  logic  of  the  school  led  to 
doctrines  which  were  softened  by  the  humanity  of  its  adherents, 
who  were  much  better  men  than  they  would  have  been  if  they 
had  been  consistent.  Kant — who  resembles  them — says  that  you 
must  be  kind  to  your  brother,  not  because  you  are  fond  of  him, 
but  because  the  moral  law  enjoins  kindness;  I  doubt,  however, 
whether,  in  private  life,  he  lived  down  to  this  precept. 

Leaving  these  generalities,  let  us  come  to  the  history  of  Stoicism. 

Of  Zeno,1  only  some  fragments  remain.  From  these  it  appears 
that  he  defined  God  as  the  fiery  mind  of  the  world,  that  he  said 
God  was  a  bodily  substance,  and  that  the  whole  universe  formed 
the  substance  of  God;  Tertullian  says  that,  according  to  Zeno, 
God  runs  through  the  material  world  as  honey  runs  through  the 
honeycomb.  According  to  Diogenes  Lacrtius,  Zeno  held  that  the 
General  Law,  which  is  Right  Reason,  pervading  everything,  is 
the  same  as  Zeus,  the  Supreme  Head  of  the  government  of  the 
universe:  God,  Mind,  Destiny,  Zeus,  are  one  thing.  Destiny  is  a 
power  which  moves  matter;  "Providence"  and  "Nature"  are 
other  names  for  it.  Zeno  does  not  believe  that  there  should  be 
temples  to  the  gods:  "To  build  temples  there  will  be  no  need:  for 
a  temple  must  not  be  held  a  thing  of  great  worth  or  anything  holy. 
Nothing  can  be  of  great  worth  or  holy  which  is  the  work  of 
builders  and  mechanics."  He  seems,  like  the  later  Stoics,  to  have 
believed  in  astrology  and  divination.  Cicero  says  that  he  attributed 
a  divine  potency  to  the  stars.  Diogenes  Laertius  says:  "All  kinds 
of  divination  the  Stoics  leave  valid.  There  must  be  divination, 

1  For  the  source*  of  what  follows,  sec  lie  van,  l^ter  Greek  Religion,  p.  i  if. 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

they  say,  if  there  is  such  a  thing  as  Providence.  They  prove  the 
reality  of  the  art  of  divination  by  a  number  of  cases  in  which 
predictions  have  come  true,  as  Zeno  asserts."  Chrysippus  is 
explicit  on  this  subject. 

The  Stoic  doctrine  as  to  virtue  does  not  appear  in  the  surviving 
fragments  of  Zeno,  but  seems  to  have  been  held  by  him. 

Cleanthes  of  Assos,  the  immediate  successor  of  Zeno,  is  chiefly 
notable  for  two  things.  First:  as  we  have  already  seen,  he  held 
that  Aristarchus  of  Samos  should  be  prosecuted  for  impiety 
because  he  made  the  sun,  instead  of  the  earth,  the  centre  of  the 
universe.  The  second  thing  is  his  Hymn  to  Zeus,  much  of  which 
might  have  been  written  by  Pope,  or  any  educated  Christian  in 
the  century  after  Newton.  Even  more  Christian  is  the  short 
prayer  of  Cleanthes: 

Lead  me,  O  Zeus,  and  thou,  O  Destiny. 

Lead  thou  me  on. 

To  whatsoever  task  thou  sendest  me, 

Lead  thou  me  on. 

I  follow  fearless,  or,  if  in  mistrust 

I  lag  and  will  not,  follow  still  I  must. 


Chrysippus  (280-207  B-C0»  wh°  succeeded  Cleanthcs,  was  a 
voluminous  author,  and  is  said  to  have  written  seven  hundred  and 
five  books.  He  made  Stoicism  systematic  and  pedantic.  He  held 
that  only  Zeus,  the  Supreme  Fire,  is  immortal  ;  the  other  gods, 
including  the  sun  and  moon,  are  born  and  die.  He  is  said  to  have 
considered  that  God  has  no  share  in  the  causation  of  evil,  but  it 
is  not  clear  how  he  reconciled  this  with  determinism.  Elsewhere 
he  deals  with  evil  after  the  manner  of  Hcraclitus,  maintaining  that 
opposites  imply  one  another,  and  good  without  evil  is  logically 
impossible:  "There  can  be  nothing  more  inept  than  the  people 
who  suppose  that  good  could  have  existed  without  the  existence 
of  evil.  Good  and  evil  being  antithetical,  both  must  needs  subsist 
in  opposition.  "  In  support  of  this  doctrine  he  appeals  to  Plato, 
not  to  Heraclitus. 

Chrysippus  maintained  that  the  good  man  is  always  happy  and 
the  bad  man  unhappy,  and  that  the  good  man's  happiness  differs 
in  no  way  from  God's.  On  the  question  whether  the  soul  survives 
death,  there  were  conflicting  opinions.  Clcanthes  maintained  that 
all  souls  survive  until  the  next  universal  conflagration  (when 

280 


STOICISM 

everything  is  absorbed  into  God);  but  Chrysippus  maintained 
that  this  is  only  true  of  the  souls  of  the  wise.  He  was  less  exclusively 
ethical  in  his  interests  than  the  later  Stoics ;  in  fact,  he  made  logic 
fundamental.  The  hypothetical  and  disjunctive  syllogism,  as  well 
as  the  word  "disjunction,"  are  due  to  the  Stoics;  so  is  the  study 
of  grammar  and  the  invention  of  "cases"  in  declension.1  Chry- 
sippus, or  other  Stoics  inspired  by  his  work,  had  an  elaborate 
theory  of  knowledge,  in  the  main  empirical  and  based  on  percep- 
tion, though  they  allowed  certain  ideas  and  principles,  which 
were  held  to  be  established  by  consensus  gentium,  the  agreement 
of  mankind.  But  Zeno,  as  well  as  the  Roman  Stoics,  regarded  all 
theoretical  studies  as  subordinate  to  ethics:  he  says  that  philo- 
sophy is  like  an  orchard,  in  which  logic  is  the  walls,  physics  the 
trees,  and  ethics  the  fruit;  or  like  an  egg,  in  which  logic  is  the 
shell,  physics  the  white,  and  ethics  the  yolk.2  Chrysippus,  it 
would  seem,  allowed  more  independent  value  to  theoretical 
studies.  Perhaps  his  influence  accounts  for  the  fact  that  among  the 
Stoics  there  were  many  men  who  made  advances  in  mathematics 
and  other  sciences. 

Stoicism,  after  Chrysippus,  was  considerably  modified  by  two 
important  men,  Panaetius  and  Posidonius.  Panaetius  introduced 
a  considerable  element  of  Platonism,  and  abandoned  materialism. 
He  was  a  friend  of  the  younger  Scipio,  and  had  an  influence  on 
Cicero,  through  whom,  mainly,  Stoicism  became  known  to  the 
Romans.  Posidonius,  under  whom  Cicero  studied  in  Rhodes, 
influenced  him  even  more.  Posidonius  was  taught  by  Panaetius, 
who  died  about  1 10  B.C. 

Posidonius  (ra,  135-01.  51  B.C.)  was  a  Syrian  Greek,  and  was  a 
child  when  the  Seleucid  empire  came  to  an  end.  Perhaps  it  was 
his  experience  of  anarchy  in  Syria  that  caused  him  to  travel  west- 
ward, first  to  Athens,  where  he  imbibed  the  Stoic  philosophy, 
and  then  further  afield,  to  the  western  parts  of  the  Roman  Empire. 
44  He  saw  with  his  own  eyes  the  sunset  in  the  Atlantic  beyond  the 
verge  of  the  known  world,  and  the  African  coast  over  against 
Spain,  where  the  trees  were  full  of  apes,  and  the  villages  of  bar- 
barous people  inland  from  *  Marseilles,  where  human  heads 
hanging  at  the  house-doors  for  trophies  were  an  every-day  sight."* 
He  became  a  voluminous  writer  on  scientific  subjects;  indeed, 

1  See  Berth,  Die  Stoa,  4th  edition,  Stuttgart,  1922. 

1  Ibid.  '  Bcvan,  Stoics  and  Sceptics,  p.  88. 

28l 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

one  of  the  reasons  for  his  travels  was  a  wish  to  study  the  tides, 
which  could  not  be  done  in  the  Mediterranean.  He  did  excellent 
work  in  astronomy;  as  we  saw  in  Chapter  XXIV  his  estimate  of 
the  distance  of  the  sun  was  the  best  in  antiquity.1  He  was  also  a 
historian  of  note — he  continued  Polybius.  But  it  was  chiefly  as 
an  eclectic  philosopher  that  he  was  known:  he  combined  with 
Stoicism  much  of  Plato's  teaching,  which  the  Academy,  in  its 
sceptical  phase,  appeared  to  have  forgotten. 

This  affinity  to  Plato  is  shown  in  his  teaching  about  the  soul 
and  the  life  after  death.  Panaetius  had  said,  as  most  Stoics  did, 
that  the  soul  perishes  with  the  body.  Posidonius,  on  the  contrary, 
says  that  it  continues  to  live  in  the  air,  where,  in  most  cases,  it 
remains  unchanged  until  the  next  world-conflagration.  There  is 
no  hell,  but  the  wicked,  after  death,  are  not  so  fortunate  as  the 
good,  for  sin  makes  the  vapours  of  the  soul  muddy,  and  prevents 
it  from  rising  as  far  as  the  good  soul  rises.  The  very  wicked  stay 
near  the  earth  and  are  reincarnated ;  the  truly  virtuous  rise  to  the 
stellar  sphere  and  spend  their  time  watching  the  stars  go  round. 
They  can  help  other  souls;  this  explains  (he  thinks)  the  truth  of 
astrology.  Bevan  suggests  that,  by  this  revival  of  Orphic  notions 
and  incorporation  of  Neo-Pythagorean  beliefs,  Posidonius  may 
have  paved  the  way  for  Gnosticism.  He  adds,  very  truly,  that 
what  was  fatal  to  such  philosophies  as  his  was  not  Christianity 
but  the  Coperrucan  theory.1  Cleanthes  was  right  in  regarding 
Aristarchus  of  Samos  as  a  dangerous  enemy. 

Much  more  important  historically  (though  not  philosophically) 
than  the  earlier  Stoics  were  the  three  who  were  connected  with 
Rome:  Seneca,  Epictetus,  and  Marcus  Aurelius — a  minister,  a 
slave,  and  an  emperor,  respectively. 

Seneca  (ca.  3  B.C.  to  A.D.  65)  was  a  Spaniard,  whose  father  was 
a  cultivated  man  living  in  Rome.  Seneca  adopted  a  political  career, 
and  was  being  moderately  successful  when  he  was  banished  to 
Corsica  (A.D.  41)  by  the  Emperor  Claudius,  because  he  had 
incurred  the  enmity  of  the  Empress  Messalina.  Claudius's  second 
wife  Agrippina  recalled  Seneca  from  exile  in  A.D.  48,  and  appointed 

1  He  estimated  that  by  sailing  westward  from  Cadiz,  India  could  be 
teached  after  70,000  stades.  "This  remark  was  the  ultimate  foundation 
of  Columbia's  confidence."  Tarn,  Hellenistic  Civilization,  p.  249. 

1  The  above  account  of  Posidonius  is  mainly  based  on  Chapter  II I  of 
Edwyn  Be  van's  Stoic t  and  Sceptic*. 

282 


STOICISM 

him  tutor  to  her  son,  aged  eleven.  Seneca  was  less  fortunate  than 
Aristotle  in  his  pupil,  who  was  the  Emperor  Nero.  Although,  as  a 
Stoic,  Seneca  officially  despised  riches,  he  amassed  a  huge  fortune, 
amounting,  it  was  said,  to  three  hundred  million  sesterces  (about 
three  million  pounds).  Much  of  this  he  acquired  by  lending 
money  in  Britain ;  according  to  Dio,  the  excessive  rates  of  interest 
that  he  exacted  were  among  the  causes  of  revolt  in  that  country. 
The  heroic  Queen  Boadicea,  if  this  is  true,  was  heading  a  rebellion 
against  capitalism  as  represented  by  the  philosophic  apostle  of 
austerity. 

Gradually,  as  Nero's  excesses  grew  more  unbridled,  Seneca  fell 
increasingly  out  of  favour.  At  length  he  \vas  accused,  justly  or 
unjustly,  of  complicity  in  a  widespread  conspiracy  to  murder 
Nero  and  place  a  new  emperor — some  said,  Seneca  himself — 
upon  the  throne.  In  view  of  his  former  services,  he  was  graciously 
permitted  to  commit  suicide  (A.D.  65). 

His  end  was  edifying.  At  first,  on  being  informed  of  the  Em- 
peror's decision,  he  set  about  making  a  will.  When  told  that  there 
was  no  time  allowed  for  such  a  lengthy  business,  he  turned  to  his 
sorrowing  family  and  said:  "Never  mind,  I  leave  you  what  is  of 
far  more  value  than  earthly  riches,  the  example  of  a  virtuous  life" 
— or  words  to  that  effect.  lie  then  opened  his  veins,  and  summoned 
his  secretaries  to  take  down  his  dying  words;  according  to  Tacitus, 
his  eloquence  continued  to  flow  during  his  last  moments.  His 
nephew  Lucan,  the  poet,  suffered  a  similar  death  at  the  same  time, 
and  expired  reciting  his  own  verses.  Seneca  was  judged,  in  future 
ages,  rather  hy  his  admirable  precepts  than  by  his  somewhat 
dubious  practice.  Several  of  the  Fathers  claimed  him  as  a  Christian, 
and  a  supposed  correspondence  between  him  and  Saint  Paul  was 
accepted  as  genuine  by  such  men  as  Saint  Jerome. 

Epictetus  (born  about  A.D.  60,  died  about  A.D.  100)  is  a  very 
different  type  of  man,  though  closely  akin  as  a  philosopher.  He 
was  a  Greek,  originally  a  slave  of  Epaphroditus,  a  freedman  of 
Nero  and  then  his  minister.  He  was  lame— as  a  result,  it  was  said 
of  a  cruel  punishment  in  his  days  of  slavery.  He  lived  and  taught 
at  Rome  until  A.D.  90,  when  the  Emperor  Domitian,  who  had  no 
use  for  intellectuals,  banished  all  philosophers.  Epictetus  there- 
upon retired  to  lS?icopolis  in  Epirus,  where,  after  some  years 
spent  in  writing  and  teaching,  he  died. 

Marcus  Aurrlius  (A.D.  121-180)  was  at  the  other  end  of  the 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL    THOUGHT 

social  scale.  He  was  the  adopted  son  of  the  good  Emperor  Anto- 
ninus Pius,  who  was  his  uncle  and  his  father-in-law,  whom  he 
succeeded  in  A.D.  161,  and  whose  memory  he  revered.  As  Emperor, 
he  devoted  himself  to  Stoic  virtue.  He  had  much  need  of  fortitude, 
for  his  reign  was  beset  by  calamities — earthquakes,  pestilences, 
long  and  difficult  wars,  military  insurrections.  His  Meditations, 
which  are  addressed  to  himself,  and  apparently  not  intended  for 
publication,  show  that  he  felt  his  public  duties  burdensome,  and 
that  he  suffered  from  a  great  weariness.  His  only  son  Commodus, 
who  succeeded  him,  turned  out  to  be  one  of  the  worst  of  the 
many  bad  emperors,  but  successfully  concealed  his  vicious  pro- 
pensities so  long  as  his  father  lived.  The  philosopher's  wife 
Faustina  was  accused,  perhaps  unjustly,  of  gross  immorality,  but 
he  never  suspected  her,  and  after  her  death  took  trouble  about 
her  deification.  He  persecuted  the  Christians,  because  they  re- 
jected the  State  religion,  which  he  considered  politically  necessary. 
In  all  his  actions  he  was  conscientious,  but  in  most  he  was  un- 
successful.He  is  a  pathetic  figure:  in  a  list  of  mundane  desires  to 
be  resisted,  the  one  that  he  finds  most  seductive  is  the  wish  to 
retire  to  a  quiet  country  life.  For  this,  the  opportunity  never 
came.  Some  of  his  Meditations  are  dated  from  the  camp,  on 
distant  campaigns,  the  hardships  of  which  eventually  caused  his 
death. 

It  is  remarkable  that  Epictetus  and  Marcus  Aurelius  are  com- 
pletely at  one  on  all  philosophical  questions.  This  suggests  that 
although  social  circumstances  affect  the  philosophy  of  an  age, 
individual  circumstances  have  less  influence  than  is  sometimes 
thought  upon  the  philosophy  of  an  individual.  Philosophers  are 
usually  men  with  a  certain  breadth  of  mind,  who  can  largely  dis- 
count the  accidents  of  their  private  lives;  but  even  they  cannot 
rise  above  the  larger  good  or  evil  of  their  time.  In  bad  times  they 
invent  consolations ;  in  good  times  their  interests  are  more  purely 
intellectual. 

Gibbon,  whose  detailed  history  begins  with  the  vices  of  Corn- 
modus,  agrees  with  most  eighteenth-century  writers  in  regarding 
the  period  of  the  Amonines  as  a  golden  age.  "If  a  man  were  called 
upon/'  be  says,  "to  fix  the  period  in  the  history  of  the  world, 
during  which  the  condition  of  the  human  race  was  most  happy 
and  prosperous,  he  would,  without  hesitation,  name  that  which 
elapsed  from  the  death  of  Domitian  to  the  accession  of  Com- 


STOICISM 
• 

modus."  It  is  impossible  to  agree  altogether  with  this  judgment. 
The  evil  of  slavery  involved  immense  suffering,  and  was  sapping 
the  vigour  of  the  ancient  world.  There  were  gladiatorial  shows 
and  fights  with  wild  beasts,  which  were  intolerably  cruel  and 
must  have  debased  the  populations  that  enjoyed  the  spectacle. 
Marcus  Aurelius,  it  is  true,  decreed  that  gladiators  should  fight 
with  blunted  swords ;  but  this  reform  was  short-lived,  and  he  did 
nothing  about  fights  with  wild  beasts.  The  economic  system  was 
very  bad;  Italy  was  going  out  of  cultivation,  and  the  population 
of  Rome  depended  upon  the  free  distribution  of  grain  from  the 
provinces.  All  initiative  was  concentrated  in  the  Emperor  and  his 
ministers;  throughout  the  vast  extent  of  the  Empire,  no  one. 
except  an  occasional  rebellious  general,  could  do  anything  but 
submit.  Men  looked  to  the  past  for  what  was  best;  the  future, 
they  felt,  would  be  at  best  a  weariness,  and  at  worst  a  horror. 
When  we  compare  the  tone  of  Marcus  Aurelius  with  that  of 
Bacon,  or  Ixrcke,  or  Condorcet,  we  see  the  difference  between  a 
tired  and  a  hopeful  age.  In  a  hopeful  age,  great  present  evils  can 
be  endured,  because  it  is  thought  that  they  will  pass;  but  in  a 
tired  ape  even  real  poods  lose  their  savour.  The  Stoic  ethic  suited 
the  times  of  Kpictettis  and  Marcus  Aurelius,  because  its  gospel 
was  one  of  endurance  rather  than  hope. 

Undoubtedly  the  ape  of  the  Antonines  was  much  better  than 
any  later  ape  until  the  Renaissance,  from  the  point  of  view  of  the 
general  happiness.  Rut  careful  study  shows  that  it  was  not  so 
prosperous  as  its  architectural  remains  would  lead  one  to  suppose. 
Graeco-  Roman  civilization  had  made  very  little  impression  on 
the  agricultural  regions;  it  was  practically  limited  to  the  cities. 
Even  in  the  cities,  there  was  a  proletariat  which  suffered  very 
great  poverty,  and  there  was  a  large  slave  class.  Rostovtseff  sums 
up  a  discussion  of  social  and  economic  conditions  in  the  cities 
as  follows:1 

"This  picture  of  their  social  conditions  is  not  so  attractive  as 
the  picture  of  their  external  appearance.  The  impression  conveyed 
by  our  sources  is  that  the  splendour  of  the  cities  was  created  by, 
and  existed  for,  a  rather  small  minority  of  their  population ;  that 
the  welfare  even  of  this  small  minority  was  based  on  comparatively 
weak  foundations;  that  the  large  masses  of  the  city  population 

1  Roftovtacff,  The  Social  and  Economic  History  qf  the  Roman  Empire. 
P.  17J>. 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

had  either  a  very  moderate  income  or  lived  in  extreme  poverty. 
In  a  word,  we  must  not  exaggerate  the  health  of  the  cities:  their 
external  aspect  is  misleading." 

On  earth,  says  Epictetus,  we  are  prisoners,  and  in  an  earthly 
body.  According  to  Marcus  Aurelius,  he  used  to  say  "Thou  art 
a  little  soul  bearing  about  a  corpse."  Zeus  could  not  make  the 
body  free,  but  he  gave  us  a  portion  of  his  divinity.  God  is  the 
father  of  men,  and  we  are  all  brothers.  We  should  not  say  "I  am 
an  Athenian"  or  "I  am  a  Roman,"  but  "I  am  a  citizen  of  the 
universe."  If  you  were  a  kinsman  of  Caesar,  you  would  feel  safe; 
how  much  more  should  you  feel  safe  in  being  a  kinsman  of  God  ? 
If  we  understand  that  virtue  is  the  only  true  good,  we  shall  see 
that  no  real  evil  can  befall  us. 

I  must  die.  But  must  I  die  groaning?  I  must  be  imprisoned.  But 
must  I  whine  as  well  ?  I  must  suffer  exile.  Can  any  one  then  hinder 
me  from  going  with  a  smile,  and  a  good  courage,  and  at  peace? 
"Tell  the  secret."  I  refuse  to  tell,  for  this  is  in  my  power.  "But  I 
will  chain  you."  What  say  you,  fellow?  Chain  me?  My  leg  you 
will  chain — yes,  but  my  will — no,  not  even  Zeus  can  conquer  that. 
"I  will  imprison  you."  My  bit  of  a  body,  you  mean.  "I  will  behead 
you."  Why?  When  did  I  ever  tell  you  that  I  was  the  only  man  in 
the  world  that  could  not  be  beheaded  ? 

These  are  the  thoughts  that  those  who  pursue  philosophy 
should  ponder,  these  are  the  lessons  they  should  write  down  day 
by  day,  in  these  they  should  exercise  themselves.1 

Slaves  are  the  equals  of  other  men,  because  all  alike  arc  sons 
of  God. 

We  must  submit  to  Cod  as  a  good  citizen  submits  to  the  law. 
"The  soldier  swears  to  respect  no  man  above  Caesar,  but  we  to 
respect  ourselves  first  of  all."2  "When  you  appear  before  the 
mighty  of  the  earth,  remember  that  Another  looks  from  above 
on  what  is  happening,  and  that  you  must  please  Him  rather  than 
this  man."3 

Who  then  is  a  Stoic  ? 

Show  me  a  man  moulded  to  the  pattern  of  the  judgments  that 
he  utters,  in  the  same  way  as  we  call  a  statue  Phidian  that  is 
moulded  according  to  the  art  of  Phidias.  Show  me  one  who  is 
sick  and  yet  happy,  in  peril  and  yet  happy,  dying  and  yet  happy, 

1  Quoted  from  Gates,  op.  rtf.,  pp.  225-6, 

1  /««/.,  p.  251.  •  IUd.9  p.  280. 

286 


STOICISM 

in  exile  and  happy,  in  disgrace  and  happy.  Show  him  me.  By  the 
gods  I  would  fain  see  a  Stoic.  Nay  you  cannot  show  me  a  finished 
Stoic;  then  show  me  one  in  the  moulding,  one  who  has  set  his 
feet  on  the  path.  Do  me  this  kindness,  do  not  grudge  an  old  man 
like  me  a  sight  I  never  'saw  till  now.  What!  You  think  you  are 
going  to  show  me  the  Zeus  of  Phidias  or  his  Athena,  that  work  of 
ivory  and  gold?  It  is  a  soul  I  want;  let  one  of  you  show  me  the 
soul  of  a  man  who  wishes  to  be  at  one  with  God,  and  to  blame 
God  or  man  no  longer,  to  fail  in  nothing,  to  feel  no  misfortune, 
to  be  free  from  anger,  envy,  and  jealousy — one  who  (why  wrap 
up  my  meaning?)  desires  to  change  his  manhood  for  godhead, 
and  who  in  this  poor  body  of  his  has  his  purpose  set  upon  com- 
munion with  God.  Show  him  to  me.  Nay,  you  cannot. 

Epictctus  is  never  weary  of  showing  how  we  should  deal  with 
what  are  considered  misfortunes,  which  he  does  often  by  means 
of  homely  dialogues. 

Like  the  Christians,  he  holds  that  we  should  love  our  enemies. 
In  general,  in  common  with  other  Stoics,  he  despises  pleasure, 
but  there  is  a  kind  of  happiness  that  is  noi  to  be  despised.  "Athens 
is  beautiful.  Yes,  but  happiness  is  far  more  beautiful — freedom 
from  passion  and  disturbance,  the  sense  that  your  affairs  depend 
on  no  one"  (p.  428).  Every  man  is  an  actor  in  a  play,  in  which 
God  has  assigned  the  parts;  it  is  our  duty  to  perform  our  part 
worthily,  whatever  it  may  be. 

There  is  great  sincerity  and  simplicity  in  the  writings  which 
record  the  teaching  of  Kpictetus.  (They  are  written  down  from 
notes  by  his  pupil  Arrian.)  His  morality  is  lofty  and  unworldly; 
in  a  situation  in  which  a  man's  main  duty  is  to  resist  tyrannical 
power,  it  would  be  difficult  to  find  anything  more  helpful.  In 
some  respects,  for  instance  in  recognizing  the  brotherhood  of 
nian  and  in  teaching  the  equality  of  slaves,  it  is  superior  to  any- 
thing to  be  found  in  Plato  or  Aristotle  or  any  philosopher  whose 
thought  is  inspired  by  the  City  State.  The  actual  world,  in  the 
time  of  Epictctus,  was  very  inferior  to  the  Athens  of  Pericles; 
but  the  evil  in  what  existed  liberated  his  aspirations,  and  his 
ideal  world  is  a*  superior  to  that  of  Plato  as  his  actual  world  is 
inferior  to  the  Athens  of  the  fifth  century. 

The  Meditations  of  Marcus  Aurelius  begin  by  acknowledging 
his  indebtedness  to  his  grandfather,  father,  adopted  father,  various 
teachers,  and  the  gods.  Some  of  the  obligations  he  enumerates  are 

287 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

curious.  He  learned  (he  says)  from  Diognetus  not  to  listen  to 
miracle- workers;  from  Rusticus,  not  to  write  poetry;  from  Sextus, 
to  practise  gravity  without  affectation;  from  Alexander  the 
grammarian,  not  to  correct  bad  grammar  in  others,  but  to  use 
the  right  expression  shortly  afterwards;  from  Alexander  the 
Platonist,  not  to  excuse  tardiness  in  answering  a  letter  by  the 
plea  of  press  of  business;  from  his  adopted  father,  not  to  fall  in 
love  with  boys.  He  owes  it  to  the  gods  (he  continues)  that  he  was 
not  brought  up  too  long  with  his  grandfather's  concubine,  and 
did  not  make  proof  of  his  virility  too  soon ;  that  his  children  are 
neither  stupid  nor  deformed  in  body;  that  his  wife  is  obedient, 
affectionate,  and  simple ;  and  that  when  he  took  to  philosophy  he 
did  not  waste  time  on  history,  syllogism,  or  astronomy. 

What  is  impersonal  in  the  Meditations  agrees  closely  with 
Epictetus.  Marcus  Aurelius  is  doubtful  about  immortality,  but 
says,  as  a  Christian  might:  "Since  it  is  possible  that  thou  mayst 
depart  from  life  this  very  moment,  regulate  every  act  and  thought 
accordingly."  Life  in  harmony  with  the  universe  is  what  is  good; 
and  harmony  with  the  universe  is  the  same  thing  as  obedience 
to  the  will  of  God. 

"Everything  harmonizes  with  me  which  is  harmonious  to  thec, 
O  Universe.  Nothing  for  me  is  too  early  or  too  late,  which  is  in 
due  time  for  thee.  Everything  is  fruit  to  me  which  thy  seasons 
bring,  O  Nature:  from  thec  are  ail  things,  in  thee  are  all  things, 
to  thee  all  things  return.  The  poet  says,  Dear  city  of  Cecrops;  and 
wilt  not  thou  say,  Dear  city  of  Zeus?" 

One  sees  that  Saint  Augustine's  City  of  God  was  in  part  taken 
over  from  the  pagan  Emperor. 

Marcus  Aureiius  is  persuaded  that  God  gives  every  man  a 
special  daemon  as  his  guide — a  belief  which  reappears  in  the 
Christian  guardian  angel.  He  finds  comfort  in  the  thought  of  the 
universe  as  a  closely-knit  whole;  it  is,  he  says,  one  living  being, 
having  one  substance  and  one  soul.  One  of  his  maxims  is:  "Fre- 
quently consider  the  connection  of  all  things  in  the  universe." 
"Whatever  may  happen  to  thee,  it  was  prepared  for  thee  from  all 
eternity;  and  the  implication  of  causes  was  from  eternity  spinning 
the  thread  of  thy  being/'  There  goes  with  this,  in  spite  of  his 
position  in  the  Roman  State,  the  Stoic  belief  in  the  human  race 
as  one  community :  "My  city  and  country,  so  far  as  1  am  Antoninus, 
it  Rome,  but  so  far  as  I  am  a  man,  it  is  the  world."  There  is  the 

288 


STOICISM 

difficulty  that  one  finds  in  all  Stoics,  of  reconciling  determinism 
with  the  freedom  of  the  will.  "Men  exist  for  the  sake  of  one 
another,"  he  says,  when  he  is  thinking  of  his  duty  as  ruler.  "The 
wickedness  of  one  man  does  no  harm  to  another,"  he  says  on 
the  same  page,  when  he  is  thinking  of  the  doctrine  that  the  virtuous 
will  alone  is  good.  He  never  inferred  that  the  goodness  of  one 
man  does  no  good  to  another,  and  that  he  would  do  no  harm  to 
anybody  but  himself  if  he  were  as  bad  an  Emperor  as  Nero;  and 
yet  this  conclusion  seems  to  follow. 

"It  is  peculiar  to  man,"  he  says,  "to  love  even  those  who  do 
wrong.  And  this  happens  if,  when  they  do  wrong,  it  occurs  to 
thee  that  they  are  kinsmen,  and  that  they  do  wrong  through 
ignorance  and  unintentionally,  and  that  soon  both  of  you  will  die; 
and  above  all,  that  the  wrong-doer  has  done  thee  no  harm,  foi 
he  has  not  made  thy  ruling  faculty  worse  than  it  was  before." 

And  again:  "Love  mankind,  Follow  God.  .  .  .  And  it  is 
enough  to  remember  that  Law  rules  all." 

These  passages  bring  out  very  clearly  the  inherent  contradictions 
in  Stoic  ethics  arid  theology.  On  the  one  hand,  the  universe  is  a 
rigidly  deterministic  single  whole,  in  which  all  that  happens  is 
the  result  of  previous  causes.  On  the  other  hand,  the  individual 
will  is  completely  autonomous,  and  no  man  can  be  forced  to  sin 
by  outside  causes.  This  is  one  contradiction  and  there  is  a  second 
closely  connected  with  it.  Since  the  will  is  autonomous,  and  the 
virtuous  will  alone  is  good,  one  man  cannot  do  either  good  or 
harm  to  another;  therefore  benevolence  is  an  illusion.  Something 
must  be  said  about  each  of  these  contradictions. 

The  contradiction  between  free  will  and  determinism  is  one  of 
those  that  run  through  philosophy  from  early  times  to  our  own 
day,  taking  different  forms  at  different  times.  At  present  it  is  the 
Stoic  form  that  concerns  us. 

I  think  that  a  Stoic,  if  we  could  make  him  submit  to  a  Socratic 
interrogation,  would  defend  his  view  more  or  less  as  follows:  The 
universe  is  a  single  animate  Being,  having  a  soul  which  may  also 
be  called  God  or  Reason.  As  a  whole,  this  Being  is  free.  God 
decided,  from  the  first,  that  He  would  act  according  to  fixed 
general  laws,  but  He  chose  such  laws  as  would  have  the  best 
results.  Sometimes,  in  particular  cases,  the  results  are  not  wholly 
desirable,  but  this  inconvenience  is  worth  enduring,  as  in  human 
codes  of  law,  for  the  sake  of  the  advantage  of  legislative  fixity.  A 

>  tif  M'/u«r*  /'JMliOoffty  289  K 


WESTERN   PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

human  being  is  partly  fire,  partly  of  lower  clay ;  in  so  far  as  he  is 
fire  (at  any  rate  when  it  is  of  the  best  quality),  he  is  part  of  God. 
When  the  divine  part  of  a  man  exercises  will  virtuously,  this  will 
is  part  of  God's,  which  is  free;  therefore  in  these  circumstances 
the  human  will  also  is  free. 

This  is  a  good  answer  up  to  a  point,  but  it  breaks  down  when 

we  consider  the  causes  of  our  volitions.  We  all  know,  as  a  matter 

of  empirical  fact,  that  dyspepsia,  for  example,  has  a  bad  effect  on 

a  man's  virtue,  and  that,  by  suitable  drugs  forcibly  administered, 

will-power  can  be   destroyed.    Take  Epictetus's  favourite  case, 

the  man  unjustly  imprisoned  by  a  tyrant,  of  which  there  have 

been  more  examples  in  recent  years  than  at  any  other  period  in 

human  history.  Some  of  these  men  have  acted  with  Stoic  heroism ; 

some,  rather  mysteriously,  have  not.  It  has  become  clear,  not 

only  that  sufficient  torture  will  break  down  almost  any  man's 

fortitude,  but  also  that  morphia  or  cocaine  can  reduce  a  man  to 

docility.  The  will,  in  fact,  is  only  independent  of  the  tyrant  so 

long  as  the  tyrant  is  unscientific.  This  is  an  extreme  example; 

but  the  same  arguments  that  exist  in  favour  of  determinism  in  the 

inanimate  world  exist  also  in  the  sphere  of  human  volitions  in 

general.  I  do  not  say — I  do  not  think — that  these  arguments  are 

conclusive;  I  say  only  that  they  are  of  equal  strength  in  both  cases, 

and  that  there  can  be  no  good  reason  for  accepting  them  in  one 

region  and  rejecting  them  in  another.  The  Stoic,  when  he  is 

engaged  in  urging  a  tolerant  attitude  to  sinners,  will  himself  urge 

that  the  sinful  will  is  a  result  of  previous  causes ;  it  is  only  the 

virtuous  will  that  seems  to  him  free.  This,  however,  is  inconsistent. 

Marcus  Aurelius  explains  his  own  virtue  as  due  to  the  good 

influence  of  parents,  grandparents,  and  teachers;  the  good  will  is 

just  as  much  a  result  of  previous  causes  as  the  bad  will.  The 

Stoic  may  say  truly  that  his  philosophy  is  a  cause  of  virtue  in 

those  who  adopt  it,  but  it  seems  that  it  will  not  have  this  desirable 

effect  unless  there  is  a  certain  admixture  of  intellectual  error. 

The  realization  that  virtue  and  sin  alike  are  the  inevitable  result 

of  previous  causes  (as  the  Stoics  should  have  held)  is  likely  to 

have  a  somewhat  paralysing  effect  on  moral  effort. 

I  come  now  to  the  second  contradiction,  that  the  Stoic,  while  he 
preached  benevolence,  held,  in  theory,  that  no  man  can  do  either 
good  or  harm  to  another,  since  the  virtuous  will  alone  is  good,  and 
the  virtuous  will  is  independent  of  outside  causes.  This  contra- 

290 


STOICISM 

diction  is  more  patent  than  the  other,  and  more  peculiar  to  the 
Stoics  (including  certain  Christian  moralists).  The  explanation  of 
their  not  noticing  it  is  that,  like  many  other  people,  they  had  two 
systems  of  ethics,  a  superfine  one  for  themselves,  and  an  inferior 
one  for  "the  lesser  breeds  without  the  law."  When  the  Stoic 
philosopher  is  thinking  of  himself,  he  holds  that  happiness  and 
all  other  worldly  so-called  goods  are  worthless;  he  even  says  that 
to  desire  happiness  is  contrary  to  nature,  meaning  that  it  involves 
lack  of  resignation  to  the  will  of  God.  But  as  a  practical  man 
administering  the  Roman  Empire,  Marcus  Aurelius  knows  per- 
fectly well  that  this  son  of  thing  won't  do.  It  is  his  duty  to  see 
that  the  grain-ships  from  Africa  duly  reach  Rome,  that  measures 
are  taken  to  relieve  the  sufferings  caused  by  pestilence,  and  that 
barbarian  enemies  are  not  allowed  to  cross  the  frontier.  That  is 
to  say,  in  dealing  with  those  of  his  subjects  whom  he  does  not 
regard  as  Stoic  philosophers,  actual  or  potential,  he  accepts 
ordinary  mundane  standards  of  what  is  good  or  bad.  It  is  by 
applying  these  standards  that  he  arrives  at  his  duty  as  an  adminis- 
trator. What  is  odd  is  that  this  duty,  itself,  is  in  the  higher  sphere 
of  what  the  Stoic  sage  should  do,  although  it  is  deduced  from  an 
ethic  which  the  Stoic  sage  regards  as  fundamentally  mistaken. 

The  only  reply  that  I  can  imagine  to  this  difficulty  is  one  which 
is  perhaps  logically  unassailable,  but  is  not  very  plausible.  It 
would,  I  think,  be  given  by  Kant,  whose  ethical  system  is  very 
similar  to  that  of  the  Stoics.  True,  he  might  say,  there  is  nothing 
good  but  the  good  will,  but  the  will  is  good  when  it  is  directed 
to  certain  ends,  that,  in  themselves,  are  indifferent.  It  does  not 
matter  whether  Mr.  A  is  happy  or  unhappy,  but  I,  if  I  am  virtuous, 
shall  act  in  a  way  which  I  believe  will  make  him  happy,  because 
that  is  what  the  moral  law  enjoins.  I  cannot  make  Mr.  A  virtuous, 
because  his  virtue  depends  only  upon  himself;  but  I  can  do  some- 
thing towards  making  him  happy,  or  rich,  or  learned,  or  healthy. 
The  Stoic  ethic  may  therefore  be  stated  as  follows:  Certain  things 
are  vulgarly  considered  goods,  but  this  is  a  mistake;  what  is  good 
is  a  will  directed  towards  securing  these  false  goods  for  other  people. 
This  doctrine  involves  no  logical  contradiction,  but  it  loses  all 
plausibility  if  we  genuinely  believe  that  what  are  commonly  con- 
sidered goods  are  worthless,  for  in  that  case  the  virtuous  will 
might  just  as  well  be  directed  to  quite  other  ends. 

There  is,  in  fact,  an  element  of  sour  grapes  in  Stoicism.  We 

291 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

can't  be  happy,  but  we  can  be  good;  let  us  therefore  pretend  that, 
so  long  as  we  are  good,  it  doesn't  matter  being  unhappy.  This 
doctrine  is  heroic,  and,  in  a  bad  world,  useful;  but  it  is  neither 
quite  true  nor,  in  a  fundamental  sense,  quite  sincere. 

Although  the  main  importance  of  the  Stoics  was  ethical,  there 
were  two  respects  in  which  their  teaching  bore  fruit  in  other  fields. 
One  of  these  is  theory  of  knowledge ;  the  other  is  the  doctrine  of 
natural  law  and  natural  rights. 

In  theory  of  knowledge,  in  spite  of  Plato,  they  accepted  percep- 
tion; the  deceptiveness  of  the  senses,  they  held,  was  really  false 
judgment,  and  could  be  avoided  by  a  little  care.  A  Stoic  philo- 
sopher, Sphaerus,  an  immediate  disciple  of  Zcno,  was  once  invited 
to  dinner  by  King  Ptolemy,  who,  having  heard  of  this  doctrine, 
offered  him  a  pomegranate  made  of  wax.  The  philosopher  pro- 
ceeded to  try  to  eat  it,  whereupon  the  king  laughed  at  him.  He 
replied  that  he  had  felt  no  certainty  of  its  being  a  real  pomegranate, 
but  had  thought  it  unlikely  that  anything  inedible  would  be 
supplied  at  the  royal  table.1  In  this  answer  he  appealed  to  a  Stoic 
distinction,  between  those  things  which  can  be  known  with 
certainty  on  the  basis  of  perception,  and  those  which,  on  this 
basis,  are  only  probable.  On  the  whole,  this  doctrine  was  sane  and 
scientific. 

Another  doctrine  of  theirs  in  theory  of  knowledge  was  more 
influential,  though  more  questionable.  This  was  their  belief  in 
innate  ideas  and  principles.  Greek  logic  was  wholly  deductive, 
and  this  raised  the  question  of  first  premisses.  First  premisses  had 
to  be,  at  least  in  part,  general,  and  no  method  existed  of  proving 
them.  The  Stoics  held  that  there  are  certain  principles  which  are 
luminously  obvious,  and  are  admitted  by  all  men ;  these  could  be 
made,  as  in  Euclid's  Elements,  the  basis  of  deduction.  Innate  ideas, 
similarly,  could  be  used  as  the  starting-point  of  definitions.  This 
point  of  view  was  accepted  throughout  the  Middle  Ages,  and 
even  by  Descartes. 

The  doctrine  of  natural  right,  as  it  appears  in  the  sixteenth, 
seventeenth,  and  eighteenth  centuries,  is  a  revival  of  a  Stoic 
doctrine,  though  with  important  modifications.  It  was  the  Stoics 
who  distinguished  jus  naturale  from  jut  gentium.  Natural  law  was 
derived  from  first  principles  of  the  kind  held  to  underlie  all 
general  knowledge.  By  nature,  the  Stoics  held,  all  human  beings 
1  Diogenet  Laertnu,  Vol.  VII  ,177. 
292 


STOICISM 

are  equal.  Marcus  Aurelius,  in  his  Meditations,  favours  "a  polity 
in  which  there  is  the  same  law  for  all,  a  polity  administered  with 
regard  to  equal  rights  and  equal  freedom  of  speech,  and  a  kingly 
government  which  respects  most  of  all  the  freedom  of  the 
governed.*'  This  was  an  ideal  which  could  not  be  consistently 
realized  in  the  Roman  Empire,  but  it  influenced  legislation,  partic- 
ularly in  improving  the  status  of  women  and  slaves.  Christianity 
took  over  this  part  of  Stoic  teaching  along  with  much  of  the  rest. 
And  when  at  last,  in  the  seventeenth  century,  the  opportunity 
came  to  combat  despotism  effectually,  the  Stoic  doctrines  of 
natural  law  and  natural  equality,  in  their  Christian  dress,  acquired 
a  practical  force  which,  in  antiquity,  not  even  an  emperor  could 
to  them. 


Chapter  XXIX 

THE   ROMAN  EMPIRE   IN   RELATION 
TO   CULTURE 

f  •   IHE  Roman  Empire  affected  the  history  of  culture  in  various 

I    more  or  less  separate  ways. 

JL  First:  there  is  the  direct  effect  of  Rome  on  Hellenistic 
thought.  This  is  not  very  important  or  profound. 

Second:  the  effect  of  Greece  and  the  East  on  the  western  half 
of  the  empire.  This  was  profound  and  lasting,  since  it  included 
the  Christian  religion. 

Third:  the  importance  of  the  long  Roman  peace  in  diffusing 
culture  and  in  accustoming  men  to  the  idea  of  a  single  civilization 
associated  with  a  single  government. 

Fourth:  the  transmission  of  Hellenistic  civilization  to  the 
Mohammedans,  and  thence  ultimately  to  western  Europe. 

Before  considering  these  influences  of  Rome,  a  very  brief 
synopsis  of  the  political  history  will  be  useful. 

Alexander's  conquests  had  left  the  western  Mediterranean  un- 
touched ;  it  was  dominated,  at  the  beginning  of  the  third  century 
B.C.,  by  two  powerful  City  States,  Carthage  and  Syracuse.  In  the 
first  and  second  Punic  Wars  (264-241  and  218-201),  Rome  con- 
quered Syracuse  and  reduced  Carthage  to  insignificance.  During 
the  second  century,  Rome  conquered  the  Macedonian  monarchies 
— Egypt,  it  is  true,  lingered  on  as  a  vassal  state  until  the  death  of 
Cleopatra  (30  B.C.).  Spain  was  conquered  as  an  incident  in  the 
war  with  Hannibal;  France  was  conquered  by  Caesar  in  the 
middle  of  the  first  century  B.C.,  and  England  was  conquered 
about  a  hundred  years  later.  The  frontiers  of  the  Empire,  in  its 
great  days,  were  the  Rhine  and  Danube  in  Europe,  the  Euphrates 
in  Asia,  and  the  desert  in  North  Africa. 

Roman  imperialism  was,  perhaps,  at  its  best  in  North  Africa 
(important  in  Christian  history  as  the  home  of  Saint  Cyprian  and 
Saint  Augustine),  where  large  areas,  uncultivated  before  and  after 
Roman  times,  were  rendered  fertile  and  supported  populous  cities. 
The  Roman  Empire  was  on  the  whole  stable  and  peaceful  for 
over  two  hundred  years,  from  the  accession  of  Augustus  (30  B.C.) 
until  the  disasters  of  the  third  century. 

294 


THE   ROMAN    EMPIRE    IN    RELATION   TO    CULTURE 

Meanwhile  the  constitution  of  the  Roman  State  had  undergone 
important  developments.  Originally,  Rome  was  a  small  City 
State,  not  very  unlike  those  of  Greece,  especially  such  as,  like 
Sparta,  did  not  depend  upon  foreign  commerce.  Kings,  like  those 
of  Homeric  Greece,  had  been  succeeded  by  an  aristocratic  republic. 
Gradually,  while  the  aristocratic  element,  embodied  in  the  Senate, 
remained  powerful,  democratic  elements  were  added ;  the  resulting 
compromise  was  regarded  by  Panaetius  the  Stoic  (whose  views 
are  reproduced  by  Polybius  and  Cicero)  as  an  ideal  combination 
of  monarchical,  aristocratic,  and  democratic  elements.  But  con- 
quest upset  the  precarious  balance;  it  brought  immense  new 
wealth  to  the  senatorial  class,  and,  in  a  slightly  lesser  degree,  to 
the  "knights,"  as  the  upper  middle  class  were  called.  Italian 
agriculture,  which  had  been  in  the  hands  of  small  farmers  growing 
grain  by  their  own  labour  and  that  of  their  families,  came  to  be  a 
matter  of  huge  estates  belonging  to  the  Roman  aristocracy,  where 
vines  and  olives  were  cultivated  by  slave  labour.  The  result  was 
the  virtual  omnipotence  of  the  Senate,  which  was  used  shamelessly 
for  the  enrichment  of  individuals,  without  regard  for  the  interests 
of  the  State  or  the  welfare  of  its  subjects. 

A  democratic  movement,  inaugurated  by  the  Gracchi  in  the 
latter  half  of  the  second  century  B.C.,  led  to  a  series  of  civil  wars, 
and  finally — as  so  often  in  Greece — to  the  establishment  of  a 
4 'tyranny."  It  is  curious  to  see  the  repetition,  on  such  a  vast  scale, 
of  developments  which,  in  Greece,  had  been  confined  to  minute 
areas.  Augustus,  the  heir  and  adopted  son  of  Julius  Caesar,  who 
reigned  from  30  B.C.  to  A.D.  14,  put  an  end  to  civil  strife,  and  (with 
few  exceptions)  to  external  wars  of  conquest.  For  the  first  time 
since  the  beginnings  of  Greek  civilization,  the  ancient  world 
enjoyed  peace  and  security. 

Two  things  had  ruined  the  Greek  political  system:  first,  the 
claim  of  each  city  to  absolute  sovereignty;  second,  the  bitter  and 
bloody  strife  between  rich  and  poor  within  most  cities.  After  the 
conquest  of  Carthage  and  the  Hellenistic  kingdoms,  the  first  of 
these  causes  no  longer  afflicted  the  world,  since  no  effective 
resistance  to  Rome  was  possible.  But  the  second  cause  remained. 
In  the  civil  wars,  one  general  would  proclaim  himself  the  champion 
of  the  Senate,  the  other  of  the  people.  Victory  went  to  the  one 
who  offered  the  highest  rewards  to  the  soldiers.  The  soldiers 
wanted  not  only  pay  and  plunder,  but  grants  of  land;  therefore 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

each  civil  war  ended  in  the  formally  legal  expulsion  of  many 
existing  landholders,  who  were  nominally  tenants  of  the  State,  to 
make  room  for  the  legionaries  of  the  victor.  The  expenses  of  the 
war,  while  in  progress,  were  defrayed  by  executing  rich  men  and 
confiscating  their  property.  This  system,  disastrous  as  it  was, 
could  not  easily  be  ended ;  at  last,  to  every  one's  surprise,  Augustus 
was  so  completely  victorious  that  no  competitor  remained  to 
challenge  his  claim  to  power. 

To  the  Roman  world,  the  discovery  that  the  period  of  civil 
war  was  ended  came  as  a  surprise,  which  was  a  cause  of  rejoicing 
to  all  except  a  small  senatorial  party.  To  every  one  else,  it  was  a 
profound  relief  when  Rome,  under  Augustus,  at  last  achieved  the 
stability  and  order  which  Greeks  and  Macedonians  had  sought  in 
vain,  and  which  Rome,  before  Augustus,  had  also  failed  to  pro- 
duce. In  Greece,  according  to  Rostovtseff,  republican  Rome  had 
"introduced  nothing  new,  except  pauperization,  bankruptcy,  and 
a  stoppage  of  all  independent  political  activity/'1 

The  reign  of  Augustus  was  a  period  of  happiness  for  the  Roman 
Empire.  The  administration  of  the  provinces  was  at  last  organized 
with  some  regard  to  the  welfare  of  the  population,  and  not  on  a 
purely  predatory  system.  Augustus  was  not  only  officially  deified 
after  his  death,  but  was  spontaneously  regarded  as  a  god  in  various 
provincial  cities.  Poets  praised  him,  the  commercial  classes  found 
the  universal  peace  convenient,  and  even  the  Senate,  which  he 
treated  with  all  the  outward  forms  of  respect,  lost  no  opportunity 
of  heaping  honours  and  offices  on  his  head. 

But  although  the  world  was  happy,  some  savour  had  gone  out 
of  life,  since  safety  had  been  preferred  to  adventure.  In  early  times, 
every  free  Greek  had  had  the  opportunity  of  adventure;  Philip 
and  Alexander  put  an  end  to  this  state  of  affairs,  and  in  the 
Hellenistic  world  only  Macedonian  dynasts  enjoyed  anarchic 
freedom.  The  Greek  world  lost  its  youth,  and  became  either 
cynical  or  religious.  The  hope  of  embodying  ideals  in  earthly 
institutions  faded,  and  with  it  the  best  men  lost  their  zest.  Heaven, 
for  Socrates,  was  a  place  where  he  could  go  on  arguing;  for 
philosophers  after  Alexander,  it  was  something  more  different 
from  their  existence  here  below. 

In  Rome,  a  similar  development  came  later,  and  in  a  less  painful 
form.  Rome  was  not  conquered,  as  Greece  was,  but  had,  on  the 
1  History  of  th*  Ancient  World.  Vol.  II,  p.  255. 
2Q6 


THE   ROMAN   EMPIRE   IN   RELATION   TO   CULTURE 

contrary,  the  stimulus  of  successful  imperialism.  Throughout  the 
period  of  the  civil  wars,  it  was  Romans  who  were  responsible  for 
the  disorders.  The  Greeks  had  not  secured  peace  and  order  by 
submitting  to  the  Macedonians,  whereas  both  Greeks  and  Romans 
secured  both  by  submitting  to  Augustus.  Augustus  was  a  Roman, 
to  whom  most  Romans  submitted  willingly,  not  only  on  account 
of  his  superior  power;  moreover  he  took  pains  to  disguise  the 
military  origin  of  his  government,  and  to  base  it  upon  decrees  of 
the  Senate.  The  adulation  expressed  by  the  Senate  was,  no  doubt, 
largely  insincere,  but  outside  the  senatorial  class  no  one  felt 
humiliated. 

The  mood  of  the  Romans  was  like  that  of  zjeune  homtne  range 
in  nineteenth-century  France,  who,  after  a  life  of  amatory  ad- 
venture, settles  down  to  a  marriage  of  reason.  This  mood,  though 
contented,  is  not  creative.  The  great  poets  of  the  Augustan  age 
had  been  formed  in  more  troubled  times;  Horace  fled  at  Philippi, 
and  both  he  and  Virgil  lost  their  farms  in  confiscations  for  the 
benefit  of  victorious  soldiers.  Augustus,  for  the  sake  of  stability, 
set  to  work,  somewhat  insincerely,  to  restore  ancient  piety,  and 
was  therefore  necessarily  rather  hostile  to  free  inquiry.  The 
Roman  world  began  to  become  stereotyped,  and  the  process 
continued  under  later  emperors. 

The  immediate  successors  of  Augustus  indulged  in  appalling 
cruelties  towards  Senators  and  towards  possible  competitors  for 
the  purple.  To  some  extent,  the  misgovernment  of  this  period 
extended  to  the  provinces;  but  in  the  main  the  administrative 
machine  created  by  Augustus  continued  to  function  fairly  well. 

A  better  period  began  with  the  accession  of  Trajan  in  A.D,  98, 
and  continued  until  the  death  of  Marcus  Aurelius  in  A.D.  180. 
During  this  time,  the  government  of  the  Empire  was  as  good  as 
any  despotic  government  can  be.  The  third  century,  on  the  con- 
trary, was  one  of  appalling  disaster.  The  army  realized  its  power, 
made  and  unmade  emperors  in  return  for  cash  and  the  promise 
of  a  life  without  warfare,  and  ceased,  in  consequence,  to  be  an 
effective  fighting  force.  The  barbarians,  from  north  and  east, 
invaded  and  plundered  Roman  territory.  The  army,  preoccupied 
with  private  gain  and  civil  discord,  was  incompetent  in  defence. 
The  whole  fiscal  system  broke  down,  since  there  was  an  immense 
diminution  of  resources  and,  at  the  same  time,  a  vast  increase  of 
expenditure  in  unsuccessful  war  and  in  bribery  of  the  army. 

297 


WESTERN   PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

Pestilence,  in  addition  to  war,  greatly  diminished  the  population. 
It  seemed  as  if  the  Empire  was  about  to  fall. 

This  result  was  averted  by  two  energetic  men,  Diocletian  (A.D. 

286-305)  and  Constantine,  whose  undisputed  reign  lasted  from 

A.D.  312  to  337.  By  them  the  Empire  was  divided  into  an  eastern 

and  western  half,  corresponding,  approximately,  to  the  division 

between  the  Greek  and  Latin  languages.  By  Constantine  the 

capital  of  the  eastern  half  was  established  at  Byzantium,  to  which 

he  gave  the  new  name  of  Constantinople.  Diocletian  curbed  the 

army,  for  a  while,  by  altering  its  character ;  from  his  time  onwards, 

the  most  effective  fighting  forces  were  composed  of  barbarians, 

chiefly  German,  to  whom  all  the  highest  commands  were  open. 

This  was  obviously  a  dangerous  expedient,  and  early  in  the  fifth 

century  it  bore  its  natural  fruit.  The  barbarians  decided  that  it 

was  more  profitable  to  fight  for  themselves  than  for  a  Roman 

master.  Nevertheless  it  served  its  purpose  for  over  a  century. 

Diocletian's  administrative  reforms  were  equally  successful  for  a 

time,  and  equally  disastrous  in  the  long  run.  The  Roman  system 

was  to  allow  local  self-government  to  the  towns,  and  to  leave 

their  officials  to  collect  the  taxes,  of  which  only  the  total  amount 

due  from  any  one  town  was  fixed  by  the  centra)  authorities. 

This  system  had  worked  well  enough  in  prosperous  times,  but 

now,  in  the  exhausted  state  of  the  empire,  the  revenue  demanded 

was  more  than  could  be  borne  without  excessive  hardship.  The 

municipal  authorities  were  personally  responsible  for  the  taxes, 

and  fled  to  escape  payment.   Diocletian  compelled  well-to-do 

citizens  to  accept  municipal  office,  and  made  flight  illegal.  From 

similar  motives  he  turned  the  rural  population  into  serfs,  tied  to 

the  soil  and  forbidden  to  migrate.  This  system  was  kept  on  by 

later  emperors. 

Constantine's  most  important  innovation  was  the  adoption  of 
Christianity  as  the  State  religion,  apparently  because  a  large 
proportion  of  the  soldiers  were  Christian.1  The  result  of  this  was 
that  when,  during  the  fifth  century,  the  Germans  destroyed  the 
Western  Empire,  its  prestige  caused  them  to  adopt  the  Christian 
religion,  thereby  preserving  for  western  Europe  so  much  of 
ancient  civilization  as  had  been  absorbed  by  the  Church. 

The  development  of  the  territory  assigned  to  the  eastern  half 
of  the  Empire  was  different.  The  Eastern  Empire,  though  con- 

1  Sec  Rottovtteff,  Hittorv  of  the  Ancient  World,  Vol.  II,  p.  332. 

298 


THE    ROMAN    EMPIRE   IN   RELATION   TO   CULTURE 

tinually  diminishing  in  extent  (except  for  the  transient  conquests 
of  Justinian  in  the  sixth  century),  survived  until  1453,  when 
Constantinople  was  conquered  by  the  Turks.  But  most  of  what 
had  been  Roman  provinces  in  the  east,  including  also  Africa  and 
Spain  in  the  west,  became  Mohammedan.  The  Arabs,  unlike  the 
Germans,  rejected  the  religion,  but  adopted  the  civilization,  of 
those  whom  they  had  conquered.  The  Eastern  Empire  was  Greek, 
not  Latin,  in  its  civilization;  accordingly,  from  the  seventh  to  the 
eleventh  centuries,  it  was  it  and  the  Arabs  who  preserved  Greek 
literature  and  whatever  survived  of  Greek,  as  opposed  to  Latin, 
civilization.  From  the  eleventh  century  onward,  at  first  through 
Moorish  influences,  the  west  gradually  recovered  what  it  had  lost 
of  the  Grecian  heritage. 

I  come  now  to  the  four  ways  in  which  the  Roman  Empire 
affected  the  history  of  culture. 

I.  The  direct  effect  of  Rome  on  Greek  thought.  This  begins  in 
the  second  century  B.C.,  with  two  men,  the  historian  Polybius, 
and  the  Stoic  philosopher  Panaetius.  The  natural  attitude  of  the 
Greek  to  the  Roman  was  one  of  contempt  mingled  with  fear; 
the  Greek  felt  himself  more  civilized,  but  politically  less  powerful. 
If  the  Romans  were  more  successful  in  politics,  that  only  showed 
that  politics  is  an  ignoble  pursuit.  The  average  Greek  of  the 
second  century  B.C.  was  pleasure- loving,  quick-witted,  clever  in 
business,  and  unscrupulous  in  all  things.  There  were,  however, 
still  men  of  philosophic  capacity.  Some  of  these — notably  the 
sceptics,  such  as  Carneades — had  allowed  cleverness  to  destroy 
seriousness.  Some,  like  the  Epicureans  and  a  section  of  the  Stoics, 
had  withdrawn  wholly  into  a  quiet  private  life.  But  a  few,  with  more 
insight  than  had  been  shown  by  Aristotle  in  relation  to  Alexander, 
realized  that  the  greatness  of  Rome  was  due  to  certain  merits 
which  were  lacking  among  the  Greeks. 

The  historian  Polybius,  born  in  Arcadia  about  200  B.C.,  was 
sent  to  Rome  as  a  prisoner,  and  there  had  the  good  fortune  to 
become  the  friend  of  the  younger  Scipio,  whom  he  accompanied 
on  many  of  his  campaigns.  It  was  uncommon  for  a  Greek  to  know 
Latin,  though  most  educated  Romans  knew  Greek;  the  circum- 
stances of  Polybius,  however,  led  him  to  a  thorough  familiarity 
with  Latin,  lie  wrote,  for  the  benefit  of  the  Greeks,  the  history  of 
ihc  later  Punic  Wars,  which  enabled  Rome  to  conquer  the  world. 

299 


WESTERN   PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

His  admiration  of  the  Roman  constitution  was  becoming  out  of 
date  while  he  wrote,  but  until  his  time  it  had  compared  very 
favourably,  in  stability  and  efficiency,  with  the  continually 
changing  constitutions  of  most  Greek  cities.  The  Romans  naturally 
read  his  history  with  pleasure;  whether  the  Greeks  did  so  is 
more  doubtful. 

Panaetius  the  Stoic  has  been  already  considered  in  the  preceding 
chapter.  He  was  a  friend  of  Polybius,  and,  like  him,  a  protege  of 
the  younger  Scipio.  While  Scipio  lived,  he  was  frequently  in 
Rome,  but  after  Scipio's  death  in  129  B.C.  he  stayed  in  Athens 
as  head  of  the  Stoic  school.  Rome  still  had,  what  Greece  had  lost, 
the  hopefulness  connected  with  the  opportunity  for  political 
activity.  Accordingly  the  doctrines  of  Panaetius  were  more 
political,  and  less  akin  to  those  of  the  Cynics,  than  were  those  of 
earlier  Stoics.  Probably  the  admiration  of  Plato  felt  by  cultivated 
Romans  influenced  him  in  abandoning  the  dogmatic  narrowness 
of  his  Stoic  predecessors.  In  the  broader  form  given  to  it  by  him 
and  by  his  successor  Posidonius,  Stoicism  strongly  appealed  to 
the  more  serious  among  the  Romans. 

At  a  later  date,  Epictetus,  though  a  Greek,  lived  most  of  his  life 
in  Rome.  Rome  supplied  him  with  most  of  his  illustrations ;  he  is 
always  exhorting  the  wise  man  not  to  tremble  in  the  presence  of 
the  Emperor.  We  know  the  influence  of  Epictetus  on  Marcus 
Aurelius,  but  his  influence  on  the  Greeks  is  hard  to  trace. 

Plutarch  (ca.  A.D.  46-120),  in  his  Lives  of  the  Noble  Grecians  and 
Romans,  traced  a  parallelism  between  the  most  eminent  men  of 
the  two  countries.  He  spent  a  considerable  time  in  Rome,  and  was 
honoured  by  the  Emperors  Hadrian  and  Trajan.  In  addition  to 
his  Lives,  he  wrote  numerous  works  on  philosophy,  religion, 
natural  history,  and  morals.  His  Lives  are  obviously  concerned 
to  reconcile  Greece  and  Rome  in  men's  thoughts. 

On  the  whole,  apart  from  such  exceptional  men,  Rome  acted 
as  a  blight  on  the  Greek-speaking  part  of  the  Empire.  Thought 
and  art  alike  declined.  Until  the  end  of  the  second  century  A.D., 
life,  for  the  well-to-do,  was  pleasant  and  easy-going;  there  was  no 
incentive  to  strenuousness,  and  little  opportunity  for  great  achieve- 
ment. The  recognized  schools  of  philosophy— the  Academy,  the 
Peripatetics,  the  Epicureans,  and  the  Stoics — continued  to  exist 
until  they  were  closed  by  Justinian.  None  of  these,  however, 
showed  any  vitality  throughout  the  time  after  Marcus  Aurelius, 

joo 


THE   ROMAN    EMPIRE    IN   RELATION    TO   CULTURE 

except  the  Neoplatonists  in  the  third  century  A.D.,  whom  we  shall 
consider  in  the  next  chapter;  and  these  men  were  hardly  at  all 
influenced  by  Rome.  The  Latin  and  Greek  halves  of  the  Empire 
became  more  and  more  divergent;  the  knowledge  of  Greek 
became  rare  in  the  west,  and  after  Constantine  Latin,  in  the  east, 
survived  only  in  law  and  in  the  army. 

II.  The  influence  of  Greece  and  the  East  on  Rome.  There  are  here 
two  very  different  things  to  consider:  first,  the  influence  of  Hellenic 
art  and  literature  and  philosophy  on  the  most  cultivated  Romans; 
second,  the  spread  of  non-Hellenic  religions  and  superstitions 
throughout  the  Western  world. 

(i)  When  the  Romans  first  came  in  contact  with  Greeks,  they 
became  aware  of  themselves  as  comparatively  barbarous  and  ur- 
couth.  The  Greeks  were  immeasurably  their  superiors  in  many 
ways:  in  manufacture  and  in  the  technique  of  agriculture ;  in  the 
kinds  of  knowledge  that  are  necessary  for  a  good  official;  in  con- 
versation and  the  art  of  enjoying  life;  in  art  and  literature  and 
philosophy.  The  only  tilings  in  which  the  Romans  were  superior 
were  military  tactics  and  social  cohesion.  The  relation  of  the 
Romans  to  the  Creeks  was  something  like  that  of  the  Prussians 
to  the  French  in  1814  and  1815;  but  this  latter  was  temporary, 
whereas  the  other  lasted  a  long  time.  After  the  Punic  Wars,  young 
Romans  conceived  an  admiration  for  the  Greeks.  They  learnt  the 
Greek  language,  they  copied  Greek  architecture,  they  employed 
Greek  sculptors.  The  Roman  gods  were  identified  with  the  gods 
of  Greece.  The  Trojan  origin  of  the  Romans  was  invented  to 
make  a  connection  with  the  Homeric  myths.  Latin  poets  adopted 
Greek  metres,  Latin  philosophers  took  over  Greek  theories.  To 
the  end,  Rome  was  culturally  parasitic  on  Greece.  The  Romans 
invented  no  art  forms,  constructed  no  original  system  of  philo- 
sophy, and  made  no  scientific  discoveries.  They  made  good  roads, 
systematic  legal  codes,  and  efficient  armies;  for  the  rest  they 
looked  to  Greece, 

The  Hellenizing  of  Rome  brought  with  it  a  certain  softening  of 
manners,  abhorrent  to  the  elder  Cato.  Until  the  Punic  Wars,  the 
Romans  had  been  a  bucolic  people,  with  the  virtues  and  vices  ot 
farmers:  austere,  industrious,  brutal,  obstinate,  and  stupid.  Their 
family  life  had  been  stable  and  solidly  built  on  the  patria  potestas; 
women  ;md  young  people  were  completely  subordinated.  All  this 

301 


WESTERN   PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

• 

changed  with  the  influx  of  sudden  wealth.  The  small  farms  dis- 
appeared, and  were  gradually  replaced  by  huge  estates  on  which 
slave  labour  was  employed  to  carry  out  new  scientific  kinds  of 
agriculture.  A  great  class  of  traders  grew  up,  and  a  large  number 
of  men  enriched  by  plunder,  like  the  nabobs  in  eighteenth-century 
England.  Women,  who  had  been  virtuous  slaves,  became  free  and 
dissolute;  divorce  became  common;  the  rich  ceased  to  have 
children.  The  Greeks,  who  had  gone  through  a  similar  develop- 
ment centuries  ago,  encouraged,  by  their  example,  what  historians 
call  the  decay  of  morals.  Even  in  the  most  dissolute  times  of  the 
Empire,  the  average  Roman  still  thought  of  Rome  as  the  upholder 
of  a  purer  ethical  standard  against  the  decadent  corruption  of 
Greece. 

The  cultural  influence  ot  Greece  on  the  Western  Kmpire 
diminished  rapidly  from  the  third  century  A.D.  onwards,  chiefly 
because  culture  in  general  decayed.  For  this  there  were  many 
causes,  but  one  in  particular  must  be  mentioned.  In  the  last  times 
of  the  Western  Empire,  the  government  was  more  undisguised!}* 
a  military  tyranny  than  it  had  been,  and  the  army  usually  selected 
a  successful  general  as  emperor;  but  the  army,  even  in  its  highest 
ranks,  was  no  longer  composed  of  cultivated  Romans,  but  of  semi- 
barbarians  from  the  frontier.  These  rough  soldiers  had  no  use  for 
culture,  and  regarded  the  civilized  citizens  solely  as  sources  of 
revenue.  Private  persons  were  too  impoverished  to  support  much 
in  the  way  of  education,  and  the  State  considered  education  un- 
necessary. Consequently,  in  the  West,  only  a  few  men  of  excep- 
tional learning  continued  to  read  Greek. 

(2)  Non-Hellenic  religion  and  superstition,  on  the  contrary, 
acquired,  as  time  went  on,  a  firmer  and  firmer  hold  on  the  West. 
We  have  already  seen  how  Alexander's  conquests  introduced  the 
Greek  world  to  the  beliefs  of  Babylonians,  Persians,  and  Egyptians. 
Similarly  the  Roman  conquests  made  the  Western  world  familiar 
with  these  doctrines,  and  also  with  those  of  Jews  and  Christians. 
I  shall  consider  what  concerns  the  Jews  anJ  Christians  at  a  later 
stage;  for  the  present,  I  shall  confine  myself  as  far  as  possible  to 
pagan  superstitions.1 

In  Rome  every  sect  and  every  prophet  was  represented,  and 
sometimes  won  favour  in  the  highest  government  circles.  Lucian, 
who  stood  for  sane  scepticism  in  spite  of  the  credulity  of  his  age. 
*  See  Cumom,  Oriental  Religion*  in  Roman  Paganism. 


THE    ROMAN    EMPIRE   IN    RELATION    TO   CULTURE 

tcfls  an  amusing  story,  generally  accepted  as  broadly  true,  about 
a  prophet  and  miracle-worker  called  Alexander  the  Paphlagonian. 
This  man  healed  the  sick  and  foretold  the  future,  with  excursions 
into  blackmail.  His  fame  reached  the  ears  of  Marcus  Aurelius, 
then  fighting  the  Marcomanni  on  the  Danube.  The  Emperor 
consulted  him  as  to  how  to  win  the  war,  and  was  told  that  if  he 
threw  two  lions  into  the  Danube  a  great  victory  would  result.  He 
followed  the  advice  of  the  seer,  but  it  was  the  Marcomanni  who 
won  the  great  victor)'.  In  spite  of  this  mishap,  Alexander's  fame 
continued  to  grow.  A  prominent  Roman  of  consular  rank,  Ruti- 
lianus, after  consulting  him  on  many  points,  at  last  sought  his 
advice  as  to  the  choice  of  a  wife.  Alexander,  like  Endymion,  had 
enjoyed  the  favours  of  the  moon,  and  by  her  had  a  daughter, 
whom  the  oracle  recommended  to  Rutilianus.  "Rutilianus,  who 
was  at  the  time  sixty  years  old,  at  once  complied  with  the  divine 
injunction,  and  celebrated  his  marriage  by  sacrificing  whole 
hecatombs  to  his  celestial  mother-in-law."1 

More  important  than  the  career  of  Alexander  the  Paphlagonian 
was  the  reign  of  the  Krnperor  Klagabalus  or  Heliogabalus  (A.D.  218- 
22),  who  was,  until  his  elevation  by  the  choice  of  the  army,  a 
Syrian  priest  of  the  sun.  In  his  slow  progress  from  Syria  to  Rome, 
he  was  preceded  by  his  portrait,  sent  as  a  present  to  the  Senate. 
"He  was  drawn  in  his  sacerdotal  robes  of  silk  and  gold,  after  the 
loose  flowing  fashion  of  the  Medes  and  Phoenicians;  his  head 
was  covered  with  a  lofty  tiara,  his  numerous  collars  and  bracelets 
were  adorned  with  gems  of  inestimable  value.  His  eyebrows  were 
tinged  with  black,  and  his  cheeks  painted  with  an  artificial  red 
and  white.  The  grave  senators  confessed  with  a  sigh,  that,  after 
having  long  experienced  the  stern  tyranny  of  their  own  country- 
men, Rome  was  at  length  humbled  beneath  the  effeminate  luxury 
of  Oriental  despotism."1  Supported  by  a  large  section  in  the  army, 
he  proceeded,  with  fanatical  zeal,  to  introduce  in  Rome  the 
religious  practices  of  the  East ;  his  name  was  that  of  the  sun-god 
worshipped  at  Emesa,  where  he  had  been  chief  priest.  His  mother, 
or  grandmother,  who  was  the  real  ruler,  perceived  that  he  had 
Kone  too  far,  and  deposed  him  in  favour  of  her  nephew  Alexander 
(222-35),  who«e  Oriental  proclivities  were  more  moderate.  The 
mixture  of  creeds  that  wa$  possible  in  his  day  was  illustrated  in 

•  Brnn,  Tht  Check  PMlmofhen.  Vol.  II,  p.  226. 

•  Gibbon,  chap.  vi. 

303 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

his  private  chapel,  in  which  he  placed  the  statues  of  Abraham 
Orpheus,  Apollonius  of  Tyana,  and  Christ. 
.  The  religion  of  Mithras,  which  was  of  Persian  origin,  was  a 
close  competitor  of  Christianity,  especially  during  the  latter  half 
of  the  third  century  A.D.  The  emperors,  who  were  making  desperate 
attempts  to  control  the  army,  felt  that  religion  might  give  a  much 
needed  stability;  but  it  would  have  to  be  one  of  the  new  religions, 
since  it  was  these  that  the  soldiers  favoured.  The  cult  was  intro- 
duced at  Rome,  and  had  much  to  commend  it  to  the  military  mind. 
Mithras  was  a  sun-god,  but  not  so  effeminate  as  his  Syrian  col- 
league ;  he  was  a  god  concerned  with  war,  the  great  war  between 
good  and  evil  which  had  been  part  of  the  Persian  creed  since 
Zoroaster.  Rostovtseff1  reproduces  a  bas-relief  representing  his 
worship,  which  was  found  in  a  subterranean  sanctuary  at  Heddern- 
heim  in  Germany,  and  shows  that  his  disciples  must  have  been 
numerous  among  the  soldiers,  not  only  in  the  East,  but  in  the 
West  also. 

Constantine's  adoption  of  Christianity  was  politically  successful, 
whereas  earlier  attempts  to  introduce  a  new  religion  failed;  but 
the  earlier  attempts  were,  from  a  governmental  point  of  view,  very 
similar  to  his.  All  alike  derived  their  possibility  of  success  from 
the  misfortunes  and  weariness  of  the  Roman  world.  The  traditional 
religions  of  Greece  and  Rome  were  suited  to  men  interested  in  the 
terrestrial  world,  and  hopeful  of  happiness  on  earth.  Asia,  with  a 
longer  experience  of  despair,  had  evolved  more  successful  anti- 
dotes in  the  form  of  other-worldly  hopes;  of  all  these,  Christianity 
was  the  most  effective  in  bringing  consolation.  But  Christianity, 
by  the  time  it  became  the  State  religion,  had  absorbed  much  from 
Greece,  and  transmitted  this,  along  with  the  Judaic  element,  to 
succeeding  ages  in  the  West. 

III.  The  unification  of  government  and  culture.  We  owe  it  first 

to  Alexander  and  then  to  Rome  that  the  achievements  of  the  great 

age  of  Greece  were  not  lost  to  the  world,  like  those  of  the  Minoan 

age.  In  the  fifth  century  B.C.,  a  Jenghiz  Khan,  if  one  had  happened 

to  arise,  could  have  wiped  out  all  that  was  important  in  the 

Hellenic  world;  Xerxes,  with  a  little  more  competence,  might 

have  made  Greek  civilization  very  greatly  inferior  to  what  it 

became  after  he  was  repulsed.  Consider  the  period  from  Aeschylus 

1  History  of  the  Ancient  World,  Vol.  II,  p.  343. 

304 


THE   ROMAN    EMPIRE   IN    RELATION   TO   CULTURE 

to  Plato:  all  that  was  done  in  this  time  was  done  by  a  minority 
of  the  population  of  a  few  commercial  cities.  These  cities,  as  the 
future  showed,  had  no  great  capacity  for  withstanding  foreign 
conquest,  but  by  an  extraordinary  stroke  of  good  fortune  their 
conquerors,  Macedonian  and  Roman,  were  Philhellenes,  and  did 
not  destroy  what  they  conquered,  as  Xerxes  or  Carthage  would 
have  done.  The  fact  that  we  are  acquainted  with  what  was  done 
by  the  (1  reeks  in  an  and  literature  and  philosophy  and  science 
is  due  to  the  stability  introduced  by  Western  conquerors  who  had 
the  good  sense  to  admire  the  civilization  which  they  governed 
but  did  their  utmost  to  preserve. 

In  certain  respects,  political  and  ethical,  Alexander  and  the 
Romans  were  the  causes  of  a  better  philosophy  than  any  that  was 
professed  by  Greeks  in  their  days  of  freedom.  The  Stoics,  as  we 
have  seen,  believed  in  the  brotherhood  of  man,  and  did  not  confine 
their  sympathies  to  the  Greeks.  The  long  dominion  of  Rome 
accustomed  men  to  the  idea  of  a  single  civilization  under  a  single 
government,  li'e  are  aware  that  there  were  important  parts  of  the 
world  which  were  not  subject  to  Rome — India  and  China,  more 
especially.  But  to  the  Roman  it  seemed  that  outside  the  Empire  there 
were  only  more  or  less  barbarian  tribes,  who  might  be  conquered 
whenever  it  should  be  worth  while  to  make  the  effort.  Essentially 
and  in  idea,  the  empire,  in  the  minds  of  the  Romans,  was  world- 
wide. This  conception  descended  to  the  Church,  which  was 
"Catholic"  in  spite  of  Buddhists,  Confucians,  and  (later)  Moham- 
medans. tSVruriis  judicat  orbis  terrarum  is  a  maxim  taken  over  by 
ihr  Church  from  the  later  Stoics;  it  owes  its  appeal  to  the  apparent 
uimcr&ality  of  the  Roman  Empire.  Throughout  the  Middle  Ages, 
after  the  time  of  Charlemagne,  the  Church  and  the  Holy  Roman 
Kmpirt  were  world-xude  in  idea,  although  everybody  knew  that 
they  were  not  so  in  fact.  The  conception  of  one  human  family, 
one  Catholic  religion,  one  universal  culture,  and  one  world-wide 
State,  has  haunted  men's  thoughts  ever  since  its  approximate 
realization  by  Rome. 

The  part  played  by  Rome  in  enlarging  the  area  of  civilization 
was  of  immense  importance.  Northern  Italy,  Spain,  France,  and 
parts  of  western  Germany,  were  civilized  as  a  result  of  forcible 
conquest  by  the  Roman  legions.  All  these  regions  proved  them- 
selves just  as  capable  of  a  high  level  of  culture  as  Rome  itself. 
In  the  last  days  of  the  Western  Empire,  Gaul  produced  men  who 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

were  at  least  the  equals  of  their  contemporaries  in  regions  of 
older  civilization.  It  was  owing  to  the  diffusion  of  culture  by 
Rome  that  the  barbarians  produced  only  a  temporary  eclipse, 
not  a  permanent  darkness.  It  may  be  argued  that  the  quality  of 
civilization  was  never  again  as  good  as  in  the  Athens  of  Pericles; 
but  in  a  world  of  war  and  destruction,  quantity  is,  in  the  long 
run,  almost  as  important  as  quality,  and  quantity  was  due  to 
Rome. 

IV.  The  Mohammedans  as  vehicles  of  Hellenism.  In  the  seventh 
century,  the  disciples  of  the  Prophet  conquered  Syria,  Egypt,  and 
North  Africa;  in  the  following  century,  they  conquered  Spain. 
Their  victories  were  easy,  and  the  fighting  was  slight.  Except 
possibly  during  the  first  few  years,  they  were  not  fanatical; 
Christians  and  Jews  were  unmolested  so  long  as  they  paid  the 
tribute.  Very  soon  the  Arabs  acquired  the  civilization  of  the 
Eastern  Empire,  but  with  the  hopefulness  of  a  rising  polity 
instead  of  the  weariness  of  decline.  Their  learned  men  read 
Greek  authors  in  translation,  and  wrote  commentaries.  Aristotle's 
reputation  is  mainly  due  to  them ;  in  antiquity,  he  was  not  regarded 
as  on  a  level  with  Plato. 

It  is  instructive  to  consider  some  of  the  words  that  we  derive 
from  Arabic,  such  as:  algebra,  alcohol,  alchemy,  alembic,  alkali, 
azimuth,  zenith.  With  the  exception  of  "alcohol"— which  meant, 
not  a  drink,  but  a  substance  used  in  chemistr  —these  words 
would  give  a  good  picture  of  some  of  the  things  we  owe  to  the 
Arabs.  Algebra  had  been  invented  by  the  Alexandrian  Greeks, 
but  was  carried  further  by  the  Mohammedans.  "Alchemy/ 
"alembic,"  "alkali"  are  words  connected  with  the  attempt  to 
turn  base  metals  into  gold,  which  the  Arabs  took  over  from  the 
Greeks,  and  in  pursuit  of  which  they  appealed  to  Greek  philo- 
sophy.1 "Azimuth"  and  "zenith"  are  astronomical  terms,  chiefly 
useful  to  the  Arabs  in  connection  with  astrology. 

The  etymological  method  conceals  what  we  owe  to  the  Arabs 
as  regards  knowledge  of  Greek  philosophy,  because,  when  it  was 
again  studied  in  Europe,  the  technical  term*  required  were  taken 
from  Greek  or  Latin.  In  philosophy,  the  Arabs  were  better  as 
commentators  than  as  original  thinkers.  Their  importance,  for  us, 

1  Sec  Alchemy,  Child  of  Greek  Philtxaphy,  by  Arthur  John  Hopkin*, 
Columbia,  1934. 

306 


THE   ROMAN   EMPIRE   IN   RELATION   TO   CULTURE 

is  that  they,  and  not  the  Christians,  were  the  immediate  inheritors 
of  those  parts  of  the  Greek  tradition  which  only  the  Eastern 
Empire  had  kept  alive.  Contact  with  the  Mohammedans,  in  Spain, 
and  to  a  lesser  extent  in  Sicily,  made  the  West  aware  of  Aristotle; 
also  ot  Arabic  numerals,  algebra,  and  chemistry.  It  was  this 
contact  that  began  the  revival  of  learning  in  the  eleventh  century, 
leading  to  the  Scholastic  philosophy.  It  was  later,  from  the 
thirteenth  century  onward,  that  the  study  of  Greek  enabled  men 
to  go  direct  to  the  works  of  Plato  and  Aristotle  and  other  Greek 
writers  of  antiquity.  Rut  if  the  Arabs  had  not  preserved  the 
tradition,  the  men  of  the  Renaissance  might  not  have  suspected 
how  much  was  to  he  gained  by  the  revival  of  classical  learning. 


307 


Chapter  XXX 
PLOTINUS 

PLOTINUS  (A.D.  204-70),  the  founder  of  Neoplatonism,  is 
the  last  of  the  great  philosophers  of  antiquity.  His  life  is 
almost  coextensive  with  one  of  the  most  disastrous  periods 
in  Roman  history.  Shortly  before  his  birth,  the  army  had  become 
conscious  of  its  power,  and  had  adopted  the  practice  of  choosing 
emperors  in  return  for  monetary  rewards,  and  assassinating  them 
afterwards  to  give  occasion  for  a  renewed  sale  of  the  empire. 
These  preoccupations  unfitted  the  soldiers  for  the  defence  of  the 
frontier,  and  permitted  vigorous  incursions  of  Germans  from  the 
north  and  Persians  from  the  Hast.  War  and  pestilence  diminished 
the  population  of  the  empire  by  about  a  third,  while  increased 
taxation  and  diminished  resources  caused  financial  ruin  in  even 
those  provinces  to  which  no  hostile  forces  penetrated.  The  cities, 
which  had  been  the  bearers  of  culture,  were  especially  hard  hit ; 
substantial  citizens,  in  large  numbers,  fled  to  escape  the  tax* 
collector.  It  was  not  till  after  the  death  of  Plotinus  that  order  was 
re-established  and  the  empire  temporarily  saved  by  the  vigorous 
measures  of  Diocletian  and  Constantine. 

Of  all  this  there  is  no  mention  in  the  works  of  Plotinus.  He 
turned  aside  from  the  spectacle  of  ruin  and  misery  in  the  actual 
world,  to  contemplate  an  eternal  world  ot  goodness  and  beauty. 
In  this  he  was  in  harmony  with  all  the  most  serious  men  of  his 
age.  To  all  of  them,  Christians  and  pagans  alike,  the  world  of 
practical  affairs  seemed  to  offer  no  hope,  and  only  the  Other 
World  seemed  worthy  of  allegiance.  To  the  Christian,  the  Other 
World  was  the  Kingdom  of  Heaven,  to  be  enjoyed  after  death; 
to  the  Platonist,  it  was  the  eternal  world  of  ideas,  the  real  world 
as  opposed  to  that  of  illusory  appearance.  Christian  theologians 
combined  these  points  of  view,  and  embodied  much  of  the  philo- 
sophy of  Plotinus.  Dean  Inge,  in  his  invaluable  book  on  Plotinus, 
rightly  emphasizes  what  Christianity  owes  to  him.  "Platonism," 
he  says,  "is  part  of  the  vital  structure  of  Christian  theology,  with 
which  no  other  philosophy,  I  venture  to  say.  can  work  without 
friction/'  There  is,  he  says,  an  "utter  impossibility  of  excising 
Platonism  from  Christianity  without  tearing  Christianity  to 

308 


PLOTINUS 

pieces."  He  points  out  that  Saint  Augustine  speaks  of  Plato's 
system  as  "the  most  pure  and  bright  in  all  philosophy/'  and  of 
Plotinus  as  a  man  in  whom  "Plato  lived  again,"  and  who,  if  he 
had  lived  a  little  later,  would  have  "changed  a  few  words  and 
phrases  and  become  Christian."  Saint  Thomas  Aquinas,  according 
to  Dean  Inge,  "is  nearer  to  Plotinus  than  to  the  real  Aristotle." 

Plotinus,  accordingly,  is  historically  important  as  an  influence 
in  moulding  the  Christianity  of  the  Middle  Ages  and  of  Catholic 
theology.  The  historian,  in  speaking  of  Christianity,  has  to  be 
careful  to  recognize  the  very  great  changes  that  it  has  undergone, 
and  the  variety  of  forms  that  it  may  assume  even  at  one  epoch. 
The  Christianity  of  the  Synoptic  Gospels  is  almost  innocent  of 
metaphysics.  The  Christianity  of  modern  America,  in  this  respect, 
is  like  primitive  Christianity;  Platonism  is  alien  to  popular  thought 
and  feeling  in  the  United  States,  and  most  American  Christians 
are  much  mere  concerned  with  duties  here  on  earth,  and  with 
social  progress  in  the  everyday  world,  than  with  the  transcendental 
hopes  that  consoled  men  when  everything  terrestrial  inspired 
despair.  I  am  not  speaking  of  any  change  of  dogma,  but  of  a 
difference  of  emphasis  and  interest.  A  modern  Christian,  unless 
he  realizes  how  great  this  difference  is,  will  fail  to  understand  the 
Christianity  of  the  past.  We,  since  our  study  is  historical,  are  con- 
cerned with  the  effective  beliefs  of  past  centuries,  and  as  to  these 
it  is  impossible  to  disagree  with  what  Dean  Inge  says  on  the 
influence  of  Plato  and  Plotinus. 

Plotinus,  however,  is  not  only  historically  important.  He  repre- 
sents, better  than  any  other  philosopher,  an  important  type  of 
theory.  A  philosophical  system  may  be  judged  important  for 
various  different  kinds  of  reasons.  The  first  and  most  obvious  is 
that  we  think  it  may  be  true.  Not  many  students  of  philosophy 
at  the  present  time  would  feel  this  about  Plotinus;  Dean  Inge  is, 
in  this  respect,  a  rare  exception.  But  truth  is  not  the  only  merit 
that  a  mctaphysic  can  possess.  It  may  have  beauty,  and  this  is 
certainly  to  be  found  in  Plotinus;  there  are  passages  that  remind 
one  of  the  later  cantos  of  Dante's  Paradise,  and  of  almost  nothing 
else  in  literature.  Now  and  again,  his  descriptions  of  the  eternal 

world  of  glory 

To  our  high-wrought  fantasy  present 
That  undisturbed  song  of  pure  concent 
Aye  sung  before  the  sapphire-coloured  throne 
To  Him  that  sits  thereon. 
309 


WESTERN   PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

Again,  a  philosophy  may  be  important  because  it  expresses  well 
what  men  are  prone  to  believe  in  certain  moods  or  in  certain  cir- 
cumstances. Uncomplicated  joy  and  sorrow  is  not  matter  for 
philosophy,  but  rather  for  the  simpler  kinds  of  poetry  and  music. 
Only  joy  and  sorrow  accompanied  by  reflection  on  the  universe 
generate  metaphysical  theories.  A  man  may  be  a  cheerful  pessimist 
or  a  melancholy  optimist.  Perhaps  Samuel  Butler  may  serve  as 
an  example  of  the  first;  Plotinus  is  an  admirable  example  of  the 
second.  In  an  age  such  as  that  in  which  he  lived,  unhappiness  is 
immediate  and  pressing,  whereas  happiness,  if  attainable  at  all, 
must  be  sought  by  reflection  upon  things  that  are  remote  from  the 
impressions  of  sense.  Such  happiness  has  in  it  always  an  element 
of  strain ;  it  is  very  unlike  the  simple  happiness  of  a  child.  And 
since  it  is  not  derived  from  the  everyday  world,  but  from  thought 
and  imagination,  it  demands  a  power  of  ignoring  or  despising  the 
life  of  the  senses.  It  is,  therefore,  not  those  who  enjoy  instinctive 
happiness  who  invent  the  kinds  of  metaphysical  optimism  that 
depend  upon  belief  in  the  reality  of  a  super-sensible  world.  Among 
the  men  who  have  been  unhappy  in  a  mundane  sense,  but  reso- 
lutely determined  to  find  a  higher  happiness  in  the  world  of 
theory,  Plotinus  holds  a  very  high  place. 

Nor  are  his  purely  intellectual  merits  by  any  means  to  be 
despised.  He  has,  in  many  respects,  clarified  Plato's  teaching;  he 
has  developed,  with  as  much  consistency  as  possible,  the  type  of 
theory  advocated  by  him  in  common  with  many  others.  His 
arguments  against  materialism  are  good,  and  his  whole  conception 
of  the  relation  of  soul  and  body  is  clearer  than  that  of  Plato  or 
Aristotle. 

Like  Spinoza,  he  has  a  certain  kind  of  moral  purity  and  loftiness, 
which  is  very  impressive.  He  is  always  sincere,  never  shrill  or 
censorious,  invariably  concerned  to  tell  the  reader,  as  simply  as 
he  can,  what  he  believes  to  be  important.  Whatever  one  may  think 
of  him  as  a  theoretical  philosopher,  it  is  impossible  not  to  love 
him  as  a  man. 

The  life  of  Plotinus  is  known,  so  far  as  it  is  known,  through  the 
biography  written  by  his  friend  and  disciple  Porphyry,  a  Semite 
whose  real  name  was  Malchus.  There  are,  however,  miraculous 
elements  in  this  account,  which  maker  it  difficult  to  place  a  complete 
reliance  upon  its  more  credible  portions. 
Plotinus  considered  his  spatio-temporal  appearance  unim~ 

310 


PLOTINU8 


portant,  and  was  loath  to  talk  about  the  accidents  of  his  historical 
existence.  He  stated,  however,  that  he  was  born  in  Egypt,  and  it 
is  known  that  as  a  young  man  he  studied  in  Alexandria,  where 
he  lived  until  the  age  of  thirty-nine,  and  where  his  teacher  was 
Ammonius  Saccas,  often  regarded  as  the  founder  of  Neoplatonism. 
He  then  joined  the  expedition  of  the  Emperor  Gordian  III  against 
the  Persians,  with  the  intention,  it  is  said,  of  studying  the  religions 
of  the  East.  The  Emperor  was  still  a  youth,  and  was  murdered  by 
the  army,  as  was  at  that  time  the  custom.  This  occurred  during 
his  campaign  in  Mesopotamia  in  A.D.  244.  Plotinus  thereupon 
abandoned  his  oriental  projects  and  settled  in  Rome,  where 
he  soon  began  to  teach.  Among  his  hearers  were  many  influen- 
tial men,  and  he  was  favoured  by  the  Emperor  Gallienus.1  At 
one  time  he  formed  a  project  of  founding  Plato's  Republic  in 
Campania,  and  building  for  the  purpose  a  new  city  to  be  called 
Platonopolis.  The  Kmperor,  at  first,  was  favourable,  but  ulti- 
mately withdrew  his  permission.  It  may  seem  strange  that  there 
should  be  room  for  a  new  city  so  near  Rome,  but  probably  by  that 
time  the  region  was  malarial,  as  it  is  now,  but  had  not  been  earlier. 
He  wrote  nothing  until  the  age  of  forty-nine;  after  that,  he  wrote 
much.  His  works  \u-re  edited  and  arranged  by  Porphyry,  who 
was  more  Pythagorean  than  Plotinus,  and  caused  the  Neoplatonist 
school  to  become  more  supernaturilist  than  it  would  have  been 
if  it  had  followed  Plotinns  more  faithfully. 

The  respect  of  Plotinus  for  Plato  is  very  great;  Plato  is  usually 
alluded  to  as  "He."  In  general,  the  "blessed  ancients"  are  treated 
with  reverence,  but  this  reverence  does  not  extend  to  the  atomists. 
The  Stoics  and  Epicureans,  being  still  active,  are  controverted, 
the  Stoics  only  for  their  materialism,  the  Epicureans  for  every 
part  of  their  philosophy.  Aristotle  plays  a  larger  part  than  appears, 
as  borrowings  from  him  are  often  unacknowledged.  One  feels  the 
influence  of  Parmenides  at  many  points. 

The  Plato  of  Plotinus  is  not  so  full-blooded  as  the  real  Plato. 

•  Concerning  Gailienus,  Gibbon  remarks :  "He  was  a  master  of  several 
curieTbttl  JL  ^-nccs,  a  ready  orator  and  -  e  egant  poe^i i*dftd 
excellent  cook,  and  most  contemptible  pnnce.  When  the 
iet  of  the  St,te  required  his  presence  and  attention   he 
convention  with  the  philosopher  Plotmus,  wasting  hi, 
or  licentious  pleasure.,  preparing  his  .motto. ,  »  the 
in  myU  or  eliciting  a  place  in  the  Areopagus  of  Athens 
'chap.  x). 

3" 


WESTERN   PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

The  theory  of  ideas,  the  mystical  doctrines  of  the  Phaedo  and  of 
Book  VI  of  the  Republic,  and  the  discussion  of  love  in  the  Sym- 
posium, make  up  almost  the  whole  of  Plato  as  he  appears  in  the 
Emieads  (as  the  books  of  Plotinus  are  called).  The  political  interests, 
the  search  for  definitions  of  separate  virtues,  the  pleasure  in 
mathematics,  the  dramatic  and  affectionate  appreciation  of  indi- 
viduals, and  above  all  the  playfulness  of  Plato,  are  wholly  absent 
from  Plotinus.  Plato,  as  Carlyle  said,  is  "very  much  at  his  ease 
in  Zion";  Plotinus,  on  the  contrary,  is  always  on  his  best  behaviour. 
The  metaphysics  of  Plotinus  begins  with  a  Holy  Trinity:  The 
One,  Spirit  and  Soul.  These  three  are  not  equal,  like  the  Persons 
of  the  Christian  Trinity;  the  One  is  supreme,  Spirit  conies  next, 
and  Soul  last.1 

The  One  is  somewhat  shadowy.  It  is  sometimes  called  God, 
sometimes  the  Good ;  it  transcends  Being,  which  is  the  first  sequent 
upon  the  One.  We  must  not  attribute  predicates  to  it,  but  only 
say  "It  is."  (This  is  reminiscent  of  Parmenides.)  It  would  be  a 
mistake  to  speak  of  God  as  "the  All,"  because  God  transcends 
the  All.  God  is  present  through  all  things.  The  One  can  be  present 
without  any  coming:  ** while  it  is  nowhere,  nowhere  is  it  not." 
Although  the  One  is  sometimes  spoken  of  as  the  Good,  we  arc- 
also  told  that  it  precedes  both  the  Good  and  the  Beautiful.* 
Sometimes,  the  One  appears  to  resemble  Aristotle's  God;  we  arc 
told  that  God  has  no  need  of  His  derivatives,  and  ignores  the 
created  world.  The  One  is  indefinable,  and  in  regard  to  it  there 
is  more  truth  in  silence  than  in  any  words  whatever. 

We  now  come  to  the  Second  Person,  whom  Plotinus  calls  nous. 
It  is  always  difficult  to  find  an  English  word  to  represent  nous. 
The  standard  dictionary  translation  is  "mind,"  but  this  does  not 
have  the  correct  connotations,  particularly  when  the  word  is  used 
in  a  religious  philosophy.  If  we  were  to  say  that  Plotinus  put 
mind  above  soul,  we  should  give  a  completely  wrong  impression. 
McKenna,  the  translator  of  Plotinus,  uses  "Intellectual-Principle/' 
but  this  is  awkward,  and  does  not  suggest  an  object  suitable  for 
religious  veneration.  Dean  Inge  uses  "Spirit,"  which  is  perhaps 

1  Origen,  who  waa  a  contemporary  of  Plotinus  and  had  the  tame  teacher 
to  philosophy,  taught  that  the  Fiitt  Pcnon  waa  auperior  to  the  Second, 
and  the  Second  to  the  Third,  agreeing  in  (hit  with  Plotinua.  But 
view  wa*  aubaequently  declared  heretical. 

1  Ftfth  Ermtad,  Fifth  Tractate,  chap.  12. 

3'* 


PLOTINUS 

the  best  word  available.  But  it  leaves  out  the  intellectual  element 
which  was  important  in  all  Greek  religious  philosophy  after 
Pythagoras.  Mathematics,  the  world  of  ideas,  and  all  thought 
about  what  is  not  sensible,  have,  for  Pythagoras,  Plato,  and 
Plotinus,  something  divine;  they  constitute  the  activity  of  nous, 
or  at  least  the  nearest  approach  to  its  activity  that  we  can  conceive. 
It  was  this  intellectual  element  in  Plato's  religion  that  led  Chris- 
tians—notably the  author  of  Saint  John's  Gospel— to  identify 
Christ  with  the  Logos.  Logos  should  be  translated  "reason"  in  this 
connection ;  this  prevents  us  from  using  "reason"  as  the  translation 
of  nous.  I  shall  follow  Dean  Inge  in  using  "Spirit,"  but  with  the 
proviso  that  nous  has  an  intellectual  connotation  which  is  absent 
from  "Spirit"  as  usually  understood.  But  often  I  shall  use  the 
word  nous  untranslated. 

Nous,  we  are  told,  is  the  image  of  the  One;  it  is  engendered 
because  the  One,  in  its  self-quest,  has  vision;  this  seeing  is  nous. 
This  is  a  difficult  conception.  A  Being  without  parts,  Plotinus  says, 
may  know  itself;  in  this  case,  the  seer  and  the  seen  are  one.  In 
God,  who  is  conceived,  as  by  Plato,  on  the  analogy  of  the  sun,  the 
light-giver  and  what  is  lit  are  the  same.  Pursuing  the  analogy,  nous 
may  be  considered  as  the  lit^ht  by  which  the  One  sees  itself.  It  is 
possible  for  us  to  know  the  Divine  Mind,  which  we  forget  through 
self-will.  To  know  the  Divine  Mind,  we  must  study  our  own 
toul  when  it  is  most  god-like:  we  must  put  aside  the  body,  and 
the  part  of  the  soul  that  moulded  the  body,  and  "sense  with 
desires  and  impulses  and  every  such  futility";  what  is  then  left 
is  an  image  of  the  Divine  Intellect. 

"Those  divinely  possessed  and  inspired  have  at  least  the  know- 
ledge that  they  hold  some  greater  thing  within  them,  though  they 
cannot  tell  what  it  is;  from  the  movements  that  stir  them  and  the 
utterances  that  come  from  them  they  perceive  the  power,  not 
themselves,  that  moves  them:  in  the  same  way,  it  must  be,  we 
stand  towards  the  Supreme  when  we  hold  nous  pure;  we  know 
the  Divine  Mind  within,  that  which  gives  Being  and  all  else  of 
that  order:  but  we  know,  too,  that  other,  know  that  it  is  none  of 
these,  but  a  nobler  principle  than  anything  we  know  as  Being; 
fuller  and  greater;  above  reason,  mind,  and  feeling;  conferring 
these  powers,  not  to  be  confounded  with  them."1 

Thus  when  we  are  "divinely  possessed  and  inspired"  we  see  not 
1  Eimtad*.  V,  3,  14-  McKenna's  translation. 
3'3 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

only  nous,  but  also  the  One.  When  we  are  thus  in  contact  with  the 
Divine,  we  cannot  reason  or  express  the  vision  in  words ;  this  comes 
later.  "At  the  moment  of  touch  there  is  no  power  whatever  to  make 
any  affirmation;  there  is  no  leisure;  reasoning  upon  the  vision  is 
for  afterwards.  We  may  know  we  have  had  the  vision  when  the 
Soul  has  suddenly  taken  light.  This  light  is  from  the  Supreme  and 
is  the  Supreme;  we  may  believe  in  the  Presence  when,  like  that 
other  God  on  the  call  of  a  certain  man,  He  comes  bringing  light; 
the  light  is  the  proof  of  the  advent.  Thus,  the  Soul  unlit  remains 
without  that  vision;  lit,  it  possesses  what  it  sought.  And  this  is 
the  true  end  set  before  the  Soul,  to  take  that  light,  to  see  the 
Supreme  by  the  Supreme  and  not  by  the  light  of  any  other 
principle — to  see  the  Supreme  which  is  also  the  means  to  the 
vision ;  for  that  which  illumines  the  Soul  is  that  which  it  is  to  see 
just  as  it  is  by  the  sun's  own  light  that  we  see  the  sun. 

But  how  is  this  to  be  accomplished  ? 
Cut  away  everything/'1 

The  experience  of  "ecstasy"  (standing  outside  one's  own  body) 
happened  frequently  to  Plotinus: 

Many  times  it  has  happened:  Lifted  out  of  the  body  into  myself; 
becoming  external  to  all  other  things  and  self-encentred ;  behold- 
ing a  marvellous  beauty;  then,  more  than  ever,  assured  of  com- 
munity with  the  loftiest  order;  enacting  the  noblest  life,  acquiring 
identity  with  the  divine;  stationing  within  It  by  having  attained 
that  activity;  poised  above  whatsoever  in  the  Intellectual  is  less 
than  the  Supreme :  yet,  there  comes  the  moment  of  descent  from 
intellection  to  reasoning,  and  after  that  sojourn  in  the  divine,  I  ask 
myself  how  it  happens  that  I  can  now  be  descending,  and  how  did 
the  Soul  ever  enter  into  my  body,  the  Soul  which  even  within  the 
body,  is  the  high  thing  it  has  shown  itself  to  be.1 

This  brings  us  to  Soul,  the  third  and  lowest  member  of  the 
Trinity.  Soul,  though  inferior  to  nous,  is  the  author  of  all  living 
things;  it  made  the  sun  and  moon  and  stars,  and  the  whole  visible 
world.  It  is  the  offspring  of  the  Divine  Intellect.  It  is  double: 
there  is  an  inner  soul,  intent  on  nous,  and  another,  which  faces 
the  external.  The  latter  is  associated  with  a  downward  movement, 
in  which  the  Soul  generates  its  image,  which  is  Nature  and  the 
world  of  sense.  The  Stoics  had  identified  Nature  with  God,  but 

1  Eimtadt,  V,  3,  17.  2  IV,  8,  i 

3'4 


PLOTINU8 

Plotinus  regards  it  as  the  lowest  sphere,  something  emanating 
from  the  Soul  when  it  forgets  to  look  upward  towards  nous. 
This  might  suggest  the  Gnostic  view  that  the  visible  world  is  evil, 
but  Plotinus  does  not  take  this  view.  The  visible  world  is  beautiful, 
and  is  the  abode  of  blessed  spirits;  it  is  only  less  good  than  the 
intellectual  world.  In  a  very  interesting  controversial  discussion 
of  the  Gnostic  view,  that  the  cosmos  and  its  Creator  are  evil,  he 
admits  that  some  parts  of  Gnostic  doctrine,  such  as  the  hatred  of 
matter,  may  be  due  to  Plato,  but  holds  that  the  other  parts,  which 
do  not  come  from  Plato,  are  untrue. 

His  objections  to  Gnosticism  are  of  two  sorts.  On  the  one  hand, 
he  says  that  Soul,  when  it  creates  the  material  world,  does  so  from 
memory  of  the  divine,  and  not  because  it  is  fallen;  the  world  of 
sense,  he  thinks,  is  as  good  as  a  sensible  world  can  be.  He  feels 
strongly  the  beauty  of  things  perceived  by  the  senses: 

Who  that  truly  perceives  the  harmony  of  the  Intellectual 
Realm  could  fail,  if  he  has  any  bent  towards  music,  to  answer  to 
the  harmony  in  sensible  sounds?  What  geometrician  or  arith- 
metician could  fail  to  take  pleasure  in  the  symmetries,  corre- 
spondences and  principles  of  order  observed  in  visible  things? 
Consider,  even,  the  case  of  pictures :  those  seeing  by  the  bodily 
sense  the  productions  of  the  art  of  painting  do  not  see  the  one 
thing  in  the  one  only  way ;  they  are  deeply  stirred  by  recognizing 
in  the  objects  depicted  to  the  eyes  the  presentation  of  what  lies 
in  the  idea,  and  so  are  called  to  recollection  of  the  truth — the 
very  experience  out  of  which  Love  rises.  Now,  if  the  sight  of 
Beauty  excellently  reproduced  upon  a  face  hurries  the  mind  to 
that  other  Sphere,  surely  no  one  seeing  the  loveliness  lavish  in 
the  world  of  sense — this  vast  orderliness,  the  form  which  the  stars 
even  in  their  remoteness  display,  no  one  could  be  so  dull-witted, 
so  immoveable,  as  not  to  be  carried  by  all  this  to  recollection, 
and  gripped  by  reverent  awe  in  the  thought  of  all  this,  so  great, 
sprung  from  that  greatness.  Not  to  answer  thus  could  only  be  to 
have  neither  fathomed  this  world  nor  had  any  vision  of  that 
other  (II,  9, 16). 

There  is  another  reason  for  rejecting  the  Gnostic  view.  The 
Gnostics  think  that  nothing  divine  is  associated  with  the  sun, 
moon,  and  stars;  they  were  created  by  an  evil  spirit.  Only  the  soul 
of  man,  among  things  perceived,  has  any  goodness.  But  Plotinus 
is  firmly  persuaded  that  the  heavenly  bodies  are  the  bodies  of 

315 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

god-like  beings,  immeasurably  superior  to  man.  According  to  the 
Gnostics,  "their  own  soul,  the  soul  of  the  least  of  mankind,  they 
declare  deathless,  divine;  but  the  entire  heavens  and  the  stars 
within  the  heavens  have  had  no  communion  with  the  Immortal 
Principle,  though  these  are  far  purer  and  lovelier  than  their  own 
souls"  (II,  9,  5).  For  the  view  of  Plotinus  there  is  authority  in 
the  Timaeus,  and  it  was  adopted  by  some  Christian  Fathers,  for 
instance,  Origen.  It  is  imaginatively  attractive;  it  expresses 
feelings  that  the  heavenly  bodies  naturally  inspire,  and  makes 
man  less  lonely  in  the  physical  universe. 

There  is  in  the  mysticism  of  Plotinus  nothing  morose  or  hostile 
to  beauty.  But  he  is  the  last  religious  teacher,  for  many  centuries, 
of  whom  this  can  be  said.  Beauty,  and  all  the  pleasures  associated 
with  it,  came  to  be  thought  to  be  of  the  Devil ;  pagans,  as  well  as 
Christians,  came  to  glorify  ugliness  and  dirt.  Julian  the  Apostate, 
like  contemporary  orthodox  saints,  boasted  of  the  populousness 
of  liis  beard.  Of  all  this,  there  is  nothing  in  Plotinus. 

Matter  is  created  by  Soul,  and  has  no  independent  reality. 
Every  Soul  has  its  hour;  when  that  strikes,  it  descends,  and  enters 
the  body  suitable  to  it.  The  motive  is  not  reason,  but  something 
more  analogous  to  sexual  desire.  When  the  soul  leaves  the  body, 
it  must  enter  another  body  if  it  has  been  sinful,  for  justice  requires 
that  it  should  be  punished.  If,  in  this  life,  you  have  murdered 
your  mother,  you  will,  in  the  next  life,  be  a  woman,  and  be 
murdered  by  your  son  (HI,  2,  13).  Sin  must  be  punished;  but  the 
punishment  happens  naturally,  through  the  restless  driving  of  the 
sinner's  errors. 

Do  we  remember  this  life  after  we  are  dead  ?  The  answer  is  per- 
fectly logical,  but  not  what  most  modem  theologians  would  say. 
Memory  is  concerned  with  our  life  in  time,  whereas  our  best  and 
truest  life  is  in  eternity.  Therefore,  as  the  soul  grows  towards 
eternal  life,  it  mil  remember  less  and  less;  friends,  children,  wife, 
will  be  gradually  forgotten;  ultimately,  we  shall  know  nothing  of 
the  things  of  this  world,  but  only  contemplate  the  intellectual 
realm.  There  will  be  no  memory  of  personality,  which,  in  con- 
templative vision,  is  unaware  of  itself.  The  soul  will  become  one 
with  nous,  but  not  to  its  own  destruction :  nous  and  the  individual 
soul  will  be  simultaneously  two  and  one  (IV,  4,  2). 

In  the  Fourth  Emend,  which  is  on  the  Soul,  one  section,  the 
Seventh  Tractate,  is  devoted  to  the  discussion  of  immortality. 

116 


PLOTINUS 

The  body,  being  compound,  is  clearly  not  immortal;  if,  then, 
it  is  part  of  us,  we  are  not  wholly  immortal.  But  what  is  the  relation 
of  the  soul  to  the  body  ?  Aristotle  (who  is  not  mentioned  explicitly) 
said  the  soul  was  the  form  of  the  body,  but  Plotinus  rejects  this 
view,  on  the  ground  that  the  intellectual  act  would  be  impossible 
if  the  soul  were  any  form  of  body.  The  Stoics  think  that  the  soul 
is  material,  but  the  unity  of  the  soul  proves  that  this  is  impossible. 
Moreover,  since  matter  is  passive,  it  cannot  have  created  itself; 
matter  could  not  exist  if  soul  had  not  created  it,  and,  if  soul  did 
not  exist,  matter  would  disappear  in  a  twinkling.  The  soul  is 
neither  matter  nor  the  form  of  a  material  body,  but  Essence,  and 
Essence  is  eternal.  This  view  is  implicit  in  Plato's  argument  that 
the  soul  is  immortal  because  ideas  arc  eternal ;  but  it  is  only  with 
Plotinus  that  it  becomes  explicit. 

How  does  the  soul  enter  the  body  from  the  aloofness  of  the 
intellectual  world  ?  The  answer  is,  through  appetite.  But  appetite, 
though  sometimes  ignoble,  may  be  comparatively  noble.  At  best, 
the  soul  "has  the  desire  of  elaborating  order  on  the  model  of 
what  it  has  seen  in  the  Intellectual-Principle  (nous).99  That  is  to 
say,  soul  contemplates  the  inward  realm  of  essence,  and  wishes 
to  produce  something,  as  like  it  as  possible,  that  can  be  seen  by 
looking  without  instead  of  looking  within — like  (we  might  say)  a 
composer  who  first  imagines  his  music,  and  then  wishes  to  hear  it 
performed  by  an  orchestra. 

But  this  desire  of  the  soul  to  create  has  unfortunate  results.  So 
long  as  the  soul  lives  in  the  pure  world  of  essence,  it  is  not  separated 
from  other  souls  living  in  the  same  world ;  but  as  soon  as  it  becomes 
joined  to  a  body,  it  has  the  task  of  governing  what  is  lower  than 
itself,  and  by  this  task  it  becomes  separate  from  other  souls,  which 
have  other  bodies.  Except  in  a  few  men  at  a  few  moments,  the 
soul  becomes  chained  to  the  body.  "The  body  obscures  the  truth, 
but  there1  all  stands  out  clear  and  separate11  (IV,  9,  5). 

This  doctrine,  like  Plato's,  has  difficulty  in  avoiding  the  view 
that  the  creation  was  a  mistake.  The  soul  at  its  best  is  content 
with  nous,  the  world  of  essence ;  if  it  were  always  at  its  best,  it 
would  not  create,  but  only  contemplate.  It  seems  that  the  act  of 

4  Plotinus  habitually  uses  "There"  as  a  Christian  might — as  it  is  used, 
for  instance,  in 

The  life  that  knows  no  ending, 
The  tearless  life  is  There. 

317 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

creation  is  to  be  excused  on  the  ground  that  the  created  world, 
in  its  main  lines,  is  the  best  that  is  logically  possible;  but  this  is 
a  copy  of  the  eternal  world,  and  as  such  has  the  beauty  that  is 
possible  to  a  copy.  The  most  definite  statement  is  in  the  Tractate 
on  the  Gnostics  (II,  9,  8): 

To  ask  why  the  Soul  has  created  the  Kosmos,  is  to  ask  why  there 
is  a  Soul  and  why  a  Creator  creates.  The  question,  also,  implies  a 
beginning  in  the  eternal  and,  further,  represents  creation  as  the  act 
of  a  changeful  Being  who  turns  from  this  to  that. 

Those  that  think  so  must  be  instructed — if  they  would  but  bear 
with  correction — in  the  nature  of  the  Supernals,  and  brought  to 
desist  from  that  blasphemy  of  majestic  powers  which  comes  so 
easily  to  them,  where  all  should  be  reverent  scruple. 

Even  in  the  administration  of  the  Universe  there  is  no  ground 
for  such  attack,  for  it  affords  manifest  proof  of  the  greatness  of 
the  Intellectual  Kind. 

This  All  that  has  emerged  into  life  is  no  amorphous  structure — 
like  those  lesser  forms  within  it  which  are  born  night  and  day  out 
of  the  lavishness  of  its  vitality — the  Universe  is  a  life  organised, 
effective,  complex,  all-comprehensive,  displaying  an  unfathomable 
wisdom.  How,  then,  can  anyone  deny  that  it  is  a  clear  image,  beau- 
tifully  formed,  of  the  Intellectual  Divinities  ?  No  doubt  it  is  a  copy, 
not  original ;  but  that  is  its  very  nature ;  it  cannot  be  at  once  symbol 
and  reality.  But  to  say  that  it  is  an  inadequate  copy  is  false ;  nothing 
has  been  left  out  which  a  beautiful  representation  within  the  physi- 
cal order  could  include. 

Such  a  reproduction  there  must  necessarily  be — though  not  by 
deliberation  and  contrivance — for  the  Intellectual  could  not  be  the 
last  of  things,  but  must  have  a  double  Act,  one  within  itself,  and 
one  outgoing;  there  must,  then,  be  something  later  than  the 
Divine;  for  only  the  thing  with  which  all  power  ends  fails  to  pass 
downwards  something  of  itself. 

This  is  perhaps  the  best  answer  to  the  Gnostics  that  the  prin- 
ciples of  Plotinus  make  possible.  The  problem,  in  slightly  different 
language,  was  inherited  by  Christian  theologians ;  they,  also,  have 
found  it  difficult  to  account  for  the  creation  without  allowing  the 
blasphemous  conclusion  that,  before  it,  something  was  lacking 
to  the  Creator.  Indeed,  their  difficulty  is  greater  than  that  of 
Plotinus,  for  he  may  say  that  the  nature  of  Mind  made  creation 
inevitable,  whereas,  for  the  Christian,  the  world  resulted  from  the 
untrammelled  exercise  of  God's  free  will 


PLCtlNUS 

Plotinus  has  a  very  vivid  sense  of  a  certain  kind  of  abstract 
beauty.  In  describing  the  position  of  Intellect  as  intermediate 
between  the  One  and  Soul,  he  suddenly  bursts  out  into  a  passage 
of  rare  eloquence: 

The  Supreme  in  its  progress  could  never  be  borne  forward  upon 
some  soulless  vehicle  nor  even  directly  upon  the  Soul:  it  will  be 
heralded  by  some  ineffable  beauty:  before  the  Great  King  in  his 
progress  there  comes  first  the  minor  train,  th£n  rank  by  rank  the 
greater  and  more  exalted,  closer  to  the  King  the  kinglier;  next  his 
own  honoured  company  until,  last  among  all  these  grandeurs, 
suddenly  appears  the  Supreme  Monarch  himself,  and  all — unless 
indeed  for  those  who  have  contented  themselves  with  the  spectacle 
before  his  coming  and  gone  away — prostrate  themselves  and  hail 
him  (V,  5,  3). 

There  is  a  Tractate  on  Intellectual  Beauty,  which  shows  the 
same  kind  of  feeling  (V,  8): 

Assuredly  all  the  gods  are  august  and  beautiful  in  a  beauty 
beyond  our  speech.  And  what  makes  them  so?  Intellect;  and 
especially  Intellect  operating  within  them  (the  divine  sun  and 
stars)  to  visibility.  .  .  . 

To  "live  at  ease"  is  There;  and  to  these  divine  beings  verity  is 
mother  and  nurse,  existence  and  sustenance;  all  that  is  not  of 
process  but  of  authentic  being  they  see,  and  themselves  in  all;  for 
all  is  transparent,  nothing  dark,  nothing  resistant;  every  being  is 
lucid  to  every  other,  in  breadth  and  depth;  light  runs  through 
light.  And  each  of  them  contains  all  within  itself,  and  at  the  same 
time  sees  all  in  every  other,  so  that  everywhere  there  is  all,  and  all 
is  all  and  each  all,  and  infinite  the  glory.  Each  of  them  is  great; 
the  small  is  great ;  the  sun,  There,  is  all  the  stars ;  and  every  star, 
again,  is  all  the  stars  and  sun.  While  some  manner  of  being  is 
dominant  in  each,  all  are  mirrored  in  every  other. 

In  addition  to  the  imperfection  which  the  world  inevitably 
possesses  because  it  is  a  copy,  there  is,  for  Plotinus  as  for  the 
Christians,  the  more  positive  evil  that  results  from  sin.  Sin  is  a 
consequence  of  free  will,  which  Plotinus  upholds  as  against  the 
determinists,  and,  more  particularly,  the  astrologers.  He  does  not 
venture  to  deny  the  validity  of  astrology  altogether,  but  he  attempts 
to  set  bounds  to  it,  BO  as  to  make  what  remains  compatible  with 
free  will.  He  does  the  same  as  regards  magic;  the  sage,  he  says,  is 
exempt  from  the  power  of  the  magician.  Porphyry  relates  that  a 

3*9 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

rival  philosopher  tried  to  put  evil  spells  on  Plotinus,  but  that' 
because  of  his  holiness  and  wisdom,  the  spells  recoiled  on  the 
rival.  Porphyry,  and  all  the  followers  of  Plotinus,  are  much  more 
superstitious  than  he  is.  Superstition,  in  him,  is  as  slight  as  was 
possible  in  that  age. 

Let  us  now  endeavour  to  sum  up  the  merits  and  defects  of  the 
doctrine  taught  by  Plotinus,  and  in  the  main  accepted  by  Christian 
theology  so  long  as, it  remained  systematic  and  intellectual. 

There  is,  first  and  foremost,  the  construction  of  what  Plotinus 
believed  to  be  a  secure  refuge  for  ideals  and  hopes,  and  one,  more- 
over, which  involved  both  moral  and  intellectual  effort.  In  the 
third  century,  and  in  the  centuries  after  the  barbarian  invasion, 
western  civilization  came  near  to  total  destruction.  It  was  fortunate 
that,  while  theology  was  almost  the  sole  surviving  mental  activity, 
the  system  that  was  accepted  was  not  purely  superstitious,  but 
preserved,  though  sometimes  deeply  buried,  doctrines  which 
embodied  much  of  the  work  of  Greek  intellect  and  much  of  the 
moral  devotion  that  is  common  to  the  Stoics  and  the  Neoplatonists. 
This  made  possible  the  rise  of  the  scholastic  philosophy,  and  later, 
with  the  Renaissance,  the  stimulus  derived  from  the  renewed 
study  of  Plato,  and  thence  of  the  other  ancients. 

On  the  other  hand,  the  philosophy  of  Plotinus  has  the  defect 
of  encouraging  men  to  look  within  rather  than  to  look  without : 
when  we  look  within  we  see  nous,  which  is  divine,  while  when  we 
look  without  we  see  the  imperfections  of  the  sensible  world.  This 
kind  of  subjectivity  was  a  gradual  growth ;  it  is  to  be  found  in  the 
doctrines  of  Protagoras,  Socrates,  and  Plato,  as  well  as  in  the 
Stoics  and  Epicureans.  But  at  first  it  was  only  doctrinal,  not 
temperamental ;  for  a  long  time  it  failed  to  kill  scientific  curiosity. 
We  saw  how  Posidonius,  about  100  B.C.,  travelled  to  Spain  and 
the  Atlantic  coast  of  Africa  to  study  the  tides.  Gradually,  however, 
subjectivism  invaded  men's  feelings  as  well  as  their  doctrines. 
Science  was  no  longer  cultivated,  and  only  virtue  was  thought 
important.  Virtue,  as  conceived  by  Plato,  involved  all  that  was 
then  possible  in  the  way  of  mental  achievement;  but  in  later 
centuries  it  came  to  be  thought  of,  increasingly,  as  involving  only 
the  virtuous  wiU,  and  not  a  desire  to  understand  the  physical 
world  or  improve  the  world  of  human  institutions.  Christianity, 
in  its  ethical  doctrines,  was  not  free  from  this  defect,  although  in 
practice  belief  in  the  importance  of  spreading  the  Christian  faith 

.120      * 


PLOTINUS 

gave  a  practicable  object  for  moral  activity,  which  was  no  longer 
confined  to  the  perfecting  of  self. 

Plotinus  is  both  an  end  and  a  beginning — an  end  as  regards  the 
Greeks,  a  beginning  as  regards  Christendom.  To  the  ancient  world, 
weary  with  centuries  of  disappointment,  exhausted  by  despair, 
his  doctrine  might  be  acceptable,  but  could  not  be  stimulating. 
To  the  cruder  barbarian  world,  where  superabundant  energy 
needed  to  be  restrained  and  regulated  rather  than  stimulated, 
what  could  penetrate  in  his  teaching  was  beneficial,  since  the 
evil  to  be  combated  was  not  languor  but  brutality.  The  work  of 
transmitting  what  could  survive  of  his  philosophy  was  performed 
by  the  Christian  philosophers  of  the  last  age  of  Rome. 


// u/or >  o/  W nt cr  n  l>k tttuoff h >  J 2 1 


Book  Two  CATHOLIC  PHILOSOPHY 


INTRODUCTION7 

CATHOLIC  philosophy,  in  the  sense  in  which  1  shall  use  the 
term,  is  that  which  dominated  European  thought  from 
Augustine  to  the  Renaissance.  There  have  been  philo- 
sophers, before  and  after  this  period  often  centuries,  who  belonged 
to  the  same  general  school.  Before  Augustine  there  were  the  early 
Fathers,  especially  Origen;  after  the  Renaissance  there  are  many, 
•'ncluding,  at  the  present  day,  all  orthodox  Catholic  teachers  of 
philosophy,  who  adhere  to  some  medieval  system,  especially  that 
of  Thomas  Aquinas.  But  it  is  only  from  Augustine  to  the  Re- 
naissance that  the  greatest  philosophers  of  the  age  are  concerned 
in  building  up  or  perfecting  the  Catholic  synthesis.  In  the  Christian 
centuries  before  Augustine,  Stoics  and  Neoplatonists  outshine  the 
Fathers  in  philosophic  ability;  after  the  Renaissance,  none  of  the 
outstanding  philosophers,  even  among  those  who  were  orthodox 
Catholics,  were  concerned  to  carry  on  the  Scholastic  or  the 
Augustinian  tradition. 

The  period  with  which  we  shall  be  concerned  in  this  book  differs 
from  earlier  and  later  times  not  only  in  philosophy,  but  in  many 
other  ways.  The  most  notable  of  these  is  the  power  of  the  Church. 
The  Church  brought  philosophic  beliefs  into  a  closer  relation  to 
social  and  political  circumstances  than  they  have  ever  had  before 
or  since  the  medieval  period,  which  we  may  reckon  from  about 
A.I).  400  to  about  A.D.  1400.  The  Church  is  a  social  institution 
built  upon  a  creed,  partly  philosophic,  partly  concerned  with 
sacred  history.  It  achieved  power  and  wealth  by  means  of  its  creed. 
The  lay  rulers,  who  were  in  frequent  conflict  with  it,  were  defeated 
because  the  great  majority'  of  the  population,  including  most  of 
the  lay  rulers  themselves,  were  profoundly  convinced  of  the  truth 
of  the  Catholic  faith.  There  were  traditions,  Roman  and  Germanic, 
against  which  the  Church  had  to  fight.  The  Roman  tradition  was 
strongest  in  Italy,  especially  among  lawyers;  the  German  tradition 
was  strongest  in  the  feudal  aristocracy  that  arose  out  of  the  bar- 
barian conquest.  But  for  many  centuries  neither  of  these  traditions 

122 


INTRODUCTION 

proved  strong  enough  to  generate  a  successful  opposition  to  the 
Church ;  and  this  was  largely  due  to  the  fact  that  they  were  not 
embodied  in  any  adequate  philosophy. 

A  history  of  thought,  such  as  that  upon  which  we  are  engaged, 
is  unavoidably  one-sided  in  dealing  with  the  Middle  Ages.  With 
very  few  exceptions,  all  the  men  of  this  period  who  contributed 
to  the  intellectual  life  of  their  time  were  churchmen.  The  laity 
in  the  Middle  Ages  slowly  built  up  a  vigorous  political  and 
economic  system,  but  their  activities  were  in  a  sense  blind.  There 
was  in  the  later  Middle  Ages  an  important  lay  literature,  very 
different  from  that  of  the  Church ;  in  a  general  history,  this  litera- 
ture would  demand  more  consideration  than  is  called  for  in  a 
history  of  philosophic  thought.  It  is  not  until  we  come  to  Dante 
that  we  find  a  layman  writing  with  full  knowledge  of  the  ecclesi- 
astical philosophy  of  his  time.  Until  the  fourteenth  century, 
ecclesiastics  have  a  virtual  monopoly  of  philosophy,  and  philo- 
sophy, accordingly,  is  written  from  the  standpoint  of  the  Church. 
For  this  reason,  medieval  thought  cannot  be  made  intelligible 
without  a  fairly  extensive  account  of  the  growth  of  ecclesiastical 
institutions,  and  especially  of  the  papacy. 

The  medieval  world,  as  contrasted  with  the  world  of  antiquity, 
is  characterized  by  various  forms  of  dualism.  There  is  the  dualisr 
of  clergy  and  laity,  the  dualism  of  Latin  and  Teuton,  the  duali' 
of  the  kingdom  of  God  and  the  kingdoms  of  this  world,  the  c* 
ism  of  the  spirit  and  the  flesh.  All  these  are  exemplified  ' 
dualism  of  Pope  and  Emperor.  The  dualism  of  Latin  and 
an  outcome  of  the  barbarian  invasion,  but  the  others 
sources.  The  relations  of  clergy  and  laity,  for  the 
were  to  be  modelled  on  the  relations  of  Samuel  and 
demand  for  the  supremacy  of  the  clergy  arose  out 
of  Arian  or  semi-Arian  emperors  and  kings.  The  d 
kingdom  of  God  and  the  kingdoms  of  this  world  i* 
New  Testament,  but  was  systematized  in  Saint  £     t^c  dark 
of  God.  The  dualism  of  the  spirit  and  the  flesh  '    ctivity  was 
Plato,  and  was  emphasized  by  the  Neoplatoni?*      «me  to  the 
in  the  teaching  of  St.  Paul;  and  it  domir^nstan 
asceticism  of  the  fourth  and  fifth  centuries. 

Catholic  philosophy  is  divided  into 
ages,  during  which,  in  Western  Europe, 
almost  non-existent.  From  the 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL    THOUGHT 

wars  of  Byzantines  and  Lombards  destroyed  most  of  what  re- 
mained of  the  civilization  of  Italy.  The  Arabs  conquered  most  of 
the  territory  of  the  Eastern  Empire,  established  themselves  in 
Africa  and  Spain,  threatened  France,  and  even,  on  one  occasion, 
sacked  Rome.  The  Danes  and  Normans  caused  havoc  in  France 
and  England,  in  Sicily  and  Southern  Italy.  Life,  throughout  these 
centuries,  was  precarious  and  full  of  hardship.  Bad  as  it  was  in 
reality,  gloomy  superstitions  made  it  even  worse.  It  was  thought 
that  the  great  majority  even  of  Christians  would  go  to  hell.  At 
every  moment,  men  felt  themselves  encompassed  by  evil  spirits, 
and  exposed  to  the  machinations  of  sorcerers  and  witches.  No  joy 
of  life  was  possible,  except,  in  fortunate  moments,  to  those  who 
retained  the  thoughtlessness  of  children.  The  general  misery 
heightened  the  intensity  of  religious  feeling.  The  life  of  the  good 
here  below  was  a  pilgrimage  to  the  heavenly  city;  nothing  of  value 
was  possible  in  the  sublunary  world  except  the  steadfast  virtue 
that  would  lead,  in  the  end,  to  eternal  bliss.  The  Greeks,  in  their 
great  days,  had  found  joy  and  beauty  in  the  everyday  world. 
Empedocles,  apostrophizing  his  fellow-citizens,  says:  " Friends, 
that  inhabit  the  great  city  looking  down  on  the  yellow  rock  of 
Acragas,  up  by  the  citadel,  busy  in  goodly  works,  harbour  of 
honour  for  the  stranger,  men  unskilled  in  meanness,  all  hail."  In 
later  times,  until  the  Renaissance,  men  had  no  such  simple  happi- 
ness in  the  visible  world,  but  turned  their  hopes  to  the  ur-*>'  °J 
Acragas  is  replaced  in  their  love  by  Jerusalem  the  Golden. lts  t"e 
earthly  happiness  at  last  returned,  the  intensity  of  longin-nten;sts 
other  world  grew  gradually  less.  Men  used  the  same  \f*"e 
with  a  less  profound  sincerity.  *°; 

In  the  attempt  to  make  the  genesis  and  significance  stian  reve' 
philosophy  intelligible,  I  have  found  it  necessary  to  challenged 
space  to  general  history  than  is  demanded  in  connects-  °*  systems 
ancient  or  modern  philosophy.  Catholic  philoy^^'  *n  the  *on8 
the  philosophy  of  an  institution,  namel—  ""stake,  but  in  the 
modern  philosophy,  even  when  it  r-**v;Cess*u*' 
concerned  with  problems,  espec*8'  which  had  an  air  of  complete- 
which  are  derived  from  Christ :J  bX  a  vanety  of  cause8-  Perhaps 
Catholic  doctrines  as  to  thtV2*  thc  8rowth  of  a  rich  commercial 
Graeco-Ror/*n  paganism  tl  Hewhene.  The  feudal  aristocracy,  in 
Christian,  from  the  very  begi' *tuPld-  and  barbaric;  the  common 
or,  in  political  terms,  to  Chur^rch  M  superior  to  the  nobles  in 

3*4 


INTRODUCTION 

The  problems  raised  by  this  dual  loyalty  were,  for  the  most 
part,  worked  out  in  practice  before  the  philosophers  supplied  the 
necessary  theory.  In  this  process  there  were  two  very  distinct 
stages:  one  before  the  fall  of  the  Western  Empire,  and  one  after 
it.  The  practice  of  a  long  line  of  bishops,  culminating  in  St. 
Ambrose,  supplied  the  basis  for  St.  Augustine's  political  philo- 
sophy. Then  came  the  barbarian  invasion,  followed  by  a  long  time 
of  confusion  and  increasing  ignorance.  Between  Boethius  and 
St.  Anselm,  a  period  of  over  five  centuries,  there  is  only  one 
eminent  philosopher,  John  the  Scot,  and  he,  as  an  Irishman,  had 
largely  escaped  the  various  processes  that  were  moulding  the  rest 
of  the  Western  world.  But  this  period,  in  spite  of  the  absence  of 
philosophers,  was  not  one  during  which  there  was  no  intellectual 
development.  Chaos  raised  urgent  practical  problems,  which  were 
dealt  with  by  means  of  institutions  and  modes  of  thought  that 
dominated  scholastic  philosophy,  and  are,  to  a  great  extent,  still 
important  at  the  present  day.  These  institutions  and  modes  of 
thought  were  not  introduced  to  the  world  by  theorists,  but  by 
practical  men  in  the  stress  of  conflict.  The  moral  reform  of  the 
Church  in  the  eleventh  century,  which  was  the  immediate  prelude 
to  the  scholastic  philosophy,  was  a  reaction  against  the  increasing 
absorption  of  the  Church  into  the  feudal  system.  To  understand 
the  scholastics  we  must  understand  Hil  deb  rand,  and  to  understand 
1  ^Mebrand  we  must  know  something  of  the  evils  against  which 

..  Attended.  Nor  can  we  ignore  the  foundation  of  the  Holy 
mediex  .**•,.      &  T-  ^       i_ 

. ,    Empire  and  its  effect  upon  European  thought. 

Su-  !  *   i^Js*5  reasons,  the  reader  will  find  in  the  following  pages 
this  svntfiC  .     •    ,       ,      ••  -    t  •  •  f    i  -  .    i        • 

rf  „  *        |piastical  and  political  history  of  which  the  relevance  to 
1  he  moi  f    .  .,        ,  .     ,        i  ,     .          ,.      , 

,|ment  of  philosophic  thought  may  not  be  immediately 

I          .  I  is  the  more  necessary  to  relate  something  of  this 
only  rendcf .          .    .  .  . J   .  ,  .        f  &  ... 

Tl         h          period  concerned  is  obscure,  and  is  unfamiliar  to 

\  «.    .  *^*«  nt  home  with  both  ancient  and  modern  history, 
out  western  huru>       .        .        ,     ,  ,   .  ~  ,  •• 

,        .  .  :  -  ^phers  have  had  as  much  influence  on  philo- 

when  the  general  level  c.    ,  ~»     ,  ,  .T<1 ,  ' r      , 

i  11  j     •      ^t.    r       L         %hrose,  Charlemagne,  and  Hiidebrand. 
lull  during  the  fourth  century,  . '    .  /    ,     6    '         ,    ,    .     . 
»u   \\r   *       r      •         i  *u      *  uninfe  these  men  and  their  times 
the  Western  Empire  and  the  estab     T  r 

.  .     f  *    .         rr,        ,;v  adequate  treatment  of  our 

out  its  former  territory.  The  culm.       ^ 

late  Roman  civilization  depended, 
condition  of  destitute  refugees;  the 
their  rural  estates.  Fresh  shocks  cor 
without  any  sufficient  breathing  $rt 

125  ] 


Part  i . — The  Fathers 


Chapter  I 

THE    RELIGIOUS    DEVELOPMENT 
OF    THE    JEWS 

^  |  -1HE  Christian  religion,  as  it  was  handed  over  by  the  late 

I     Roman  Empire  to  the  barbarians,  consisted  of  three  ele- 

JL   ments:  first,  certain  philosophical  beliefs,  derived  mainly 

from  Plato  and  the  Neoplatonists,  but  also  in  part  from  the  Stoics; 

second,  a  conception  of  morals  and  history  derived  from  the  Jews ; 

and  third,  certain  theories,  more  especially  as  to  salvation,  which 

were  on  the  whole  new  in  Christianity,  though  in  part  traceable 

to  Orphism,  and  to  kindred  cults  of  the  Near  East. 
The  most  important  Jewish  elements  in  Christianity  appear  to 

me  to  be  the  following: 

1.  A  sacred  history,  beginning  with  the  Creation,  leading  to  a 
consummation  in  the  future,  and  justifying  the  ways  of  Q       . 

man'     i          .  f  f         ,    ***  the  unseen. 

2.  The  existence  of  a  small  section  of  man*e  Q^J^   When 

specially  loves.  For  Jews,  this  section  was  the.  of  ,  .  for  thc 
Christians,  the  elect.  uged  tf£  Mme*  V0rd8>  but 

3.  A  new  conception  of    nghteoi 

giving,  for  example,  was  taken  o^  and  significance  Of  Catholic 
Judaism.  The  importance  attache^  h  nec  lo  ^.otc  more 

from  Orphism  or  from  onentemanded  in  ^^n  ^th  cithcr 
practical  philanthropy,  as  a/h  Catholjc  hilocjphy  is  essentially 
of  virtue,  seems  to  have  coftution>  MIW>V  thc  Catholic  Church; 

4.  The  Law.  Chnstiami^jj  ;,  IS  tar  from  orthodox,  is  largely 
instance  the  Decalogue,  wL^feUy  in  ethics  and  political  theory 
ritual  parts.  But  in  practice  ^,an  views  of  the  moral  law  and  froin 
same  feelings  that  the  Jew*  relations  of  Church  and  State.  In 
the  doctrine  that  correct  beliere  is  no  such  dual  loyalty  as  the 
action,  a  doctrine  which  is  esnning,  has  owed  to  God  and  Caesar, 
origin  is  the  exclusiveness  of  -h  and  State. 


THE   RELIGIOUS   DEVELOPMENT   OP   THE   JEWS 

5.  The  Messiah.  The  Jews  believed  that  the  Messiah  would 
bring  them  temporal  prosperity,  and  victory  over  their  enemies 
here  on  earth ;  moreover,  he  remained  in  the  future.  For  Christians, 
the  Messiah  was  the  historical  Jesus,  who  was  also  identified  with 
the  Logos  of  Greek  philosophy;  and  it  was  not  on  earth,  but  in 
heaven,  that  the  Messiah  was  to  enable  his  followers  to  triumph 
over  their  enemies. 

6.  The  Kingdom  of  Heaven.  Other-worldliness  is  a  conception 
which  Jews  and  Christians,  in  a  sense,  share  with  later  Platonism, 
but  it  takes,  with  them,  a  much  more  concrete  form  than  with 
(I reek  philosophers.  The  Greek  doctrine — which  is  to  be  found 
in  much  Christian  philosophy,  but  not  in  popular  Christianity — 
was  that  the  sensible  world,  in  space  and  time,  is  an  illusion,  and 
that,  by  intellectual  and  moral  discipline,  a  man  can  learn  to  live 
in  the  eternal  world,  which  alone  is  real.  The  Jewish  and  Christian 
doctrine,  on  the  other  hand,  conceived  the  Other  World  as  not 
metaphysically  different  from  this  world,  but  as  in  the  future,  when 
the  virtuous  would  enjoy  everlasting  bliss  and  the  wicked  would 
suffer  everlasting  torment.  This  belief  embodied  revenge  psy- 
chology, and  was  intelligible  to  all  and  sundry,  as  the  doctrines 
of  Greek  philosophers  were  not. 

'ro  understand  the  origin  of  these  beliefs,  we  must  take  account 


..-..  .   '"  facts  in  Jewish  history,  to  which  we  will  now  turn  our 
Hildebranu 

he  contended.  ,  ^  of  lhe  Israciites  ^^^  be  confirmed  from  any 
Roman  Lmpire  an>v,,d  Testament,  and  it  is  impossible  to  know  at 
tor  these  reasons,  *  -  .  urelv  legendary.  David  and  Solomon 
much  ecclesiastical  and  polit  '  bablv  had  a  real  existence,  but 
the  development .of  ph.losophi,  w  CQme  to  somethi  ^^ 
evident.  It  is  the  more  nect  ki  doms  of  Israe,  and  Judah. 
history  as  the  period  concerned  .  Q,d  Testamem  of  whom  there 
many  who  are  at  home  with  both  «  of  Ittac,  who  u  ken 
I-ew  technical  philosophers  have  had  a A^yrf^  finally  conquered 
sopluc  thought  as  St.  Ambrose,  Cha;nd  remoyed  .  rf 

lo  relate  what  is  essential  concerning    dom  of  Judah  a,one 
is  therefore  indispensable  in  any  ition.  The  kingdom  of  Judah 
8U  'ec  '  ower  came  to  an  end  with  the 

.lians  and  Medes  in  606  B.C. 
aptured  Jerusalem,  destroyed 
t  of  the  population  to  Babylon. 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

The  Babylonian  kingdom  fell  in  538  B.C.,  when  Babylon  was  taken 
by  Cyrus,  king  of  the  Medes  and  Persians.  Cyrus,  in  537  B.C., 
issued  an  edict  allowing  the  Jews  to  return  to  Palestine.  Many  of 
them  did  so,  under  the  leadership  of  Nehemiah  and  Ezra;  die 
Temple  was  rebuilt,  and  Jewish  orthodoxy  began  to  be  crystallized. 

In  the  period  of  the  captivity,  and  for  some  time  before  and 
after  this  period,  Jewish  religion  went  through  a  very  important 
development.  Originally,  there  appears  to  have  been  not  very 
much  difference,  from  a  religious  point  of  view,  between  the 
Israelites  and  surrounding  tribes.  Yahweh  was,  at  first,  only  a 
tribal  god  who  favoured  the  children  of  Israel,  but  it  was  not 
denied  that  there  were  other  gods,  and  their  worship  was  habitual. 
When  the  first  Commandment  says  "Thou  shall  have  none  other 
gods  but  me,"  it  is  saying  something  which  was  an  innovation 
in  the  time  immediately  preceding  the  captivity.  This  is  made 
evident  by  various  texts  in  the  earlier  prophets.  It  was  the 
prophets  at  this  time  who  first  taught  that  the  worship  of  heathen 
gods  was  sin.  To  win  the  victory  in  the  constant  wars  of  that  time, 
they  proclaimed,  the  favour  of  Yahweh  was  essential ;  and  Yahweh 
would  withdraw  his  favour  if  other  gods  were  also  honoured. 
Jeremiah  and  Ezekiel,  especially,  seem  to  have  invented  the  idea 
that  all  religions  except  one  are  false,  and  that  the  Lord  punishes 
idolatry. 

Some  quotations  will  illustrate  their  teachings,  and  the  pre- 
valence of  the  heathen  practices  against  which  they  protested. 
"Seest  Thou  not  what  they  do  in  the  cities  of  Judah  and  in  the 
streets  of  Jerusalem?  The  children  gather  wood,  and  the  fathers 
kindle  the  fire,  and  the  women  knead  their  dough,  to  make  cakes 
to  the  queen  of  heaven  [Ishtar],  and  pour  out  drink  offerings  unto 
other  gods,  that  they  may  provoke  me  to  anger."1  The  Ix>rd  is 
angry  about  it.  "And  they  have  built  the  high  places  of  Tophct, 
which  is  in  the  valley  of  the  son  of  Hinnom,  to  burn  their  sons 
and  their  daughters  in  the  fire;  which  I  commanded  them  not, 
neither  came  it  into  my  heart."2 

There  is  a  very  interesting  passage  in  Jeremiah  in  which  he 
denounces  the  Jews  in  Kgypt  for  their  idolatry.  He  himself  had 
lived  among  them  for  a  time.  The  prophet  tells  the  Jewish  refugees 
in  Egypt  that  Yahweh  will  destroy  them  all  because  their  wives 
have  burnt  incense  to  other  gods.  But  they  refuse  to  listen  to  him, 

1  Jeremiah  vii,  17-18.  *  Jbid.t  vii,  31. 

330 


THE    RELIGIOUS    DEVELOPMENT   OF   THE   JEWS 

saying:  "We  will  certainly  do  whatsoever  thing  goeth  forth  out 
of  our  own  mouth,  to  burn  incense  unto  the  queen  of  heaven,  and 
to  pour  out  drink  offerings  unto  her,  as  we  have  done,  we  and  our 
fathers,  our  kings  and  our  princes,  in  the  cities  of  Judah,  and  in 
the  streets  of  Jerusalem ;  for  then  had  we  plenty  of  victuals,  and 
were  well,  and  saw  no  evil."  But  Jeremiah  assures  them  that 
Yahweh  noticed  these  idolatrous  practices,  and  that  misfortune 
has  come  because  of  them.  "Behold,  I  have  sworn  by  my  great 
name,  saith  the  Lord,  that  my  name  shall  no  more  be  named  in 
the  mouth  of  any  man  of  Judah  in  all  the  land  of  Egypt.  .  .  . 
I  will  watch  over  them  for  evil,  and  not  for  good;  and  all  the 
men  of  Judah  that  are  in  the  land  of  Egypt  shall  be  consumed  by 
the  sword  and  by  the  famine,  until  there  be  an  end  of  them."1 

Iv/ckiel  is  equally  shocked  by  the  idolatrous  practices  of  the 
Jews.  The  Ix>rd  in  a  vision  shows  him  women  at  the  north  gate  of 
the  temple  weeping  for  Tammuz  (a  Babylonian  deity);  then  He 
shows  him  "greater  abominations,"  five  and  twenty  men  at  the 
door  of  the  temple  worshipping  the  sun.  The  Lord  declares: 
"Therefore  will  I  also  deal  in  fury:  mine  eye  shall  not  spare, 
neither  will  I  have  pity:  and  though  they  cry  in  mine  ears  with  a 
loud  voice,  yet  will  I  not  hear  them."2 

The  idea  that  all  religions  but  one  are  wicked,  and  that  the 
Lord  punishes  idolatry,  was  apparently  invented  by  these  prophets. 
The  prophets,  on  the  whole,  were  fiercely  nationalistic,  and  looked 
forward  to  the  day  when  the  Ix>rd  would  utterly  destroy  the 
gentiles. 

The  captivity  was  taken  to  justify  the  denunciations  of  the 
prophets.  If  Yahweh  was  all-powerful,  and  the  Jews  were  his 
Chosen  People,  their  sufferings  could  only  be  explained  by  their 
wickedness.  The  psychology  is  that  of  paternal  correction:  the 
Jews  are  to  be  purified  by  punishment.  Under  the  influence  of  this 
belief,  they  developed,  in  exile,  an  orthodoxy  much  more  rigid  and 
much  more  nationally  exclusive  than  that  which  had  prevailed  while 
they  were  independent.  The  Jews  who  remained  behind  and  were 
not  transplanted  to  Babylon  did  not  undergo  this  development 
to  anything  like  the  same  extent.  When  Ezra  and  Nehemiah  came 
back  to  Jerusalem  after  the  captivity,  they  were  shocked  to  find 
that  mixed  marriages  had  been  common,  and  they  dissolved  all 
such  marriages.3 

1  Jeremiah  xliv,  ii-cnd.  '  Kzckiel  vii,  ii-cnd.  *  Ezra  ix-x,  5. 

33' 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL    THOUGHT 

in  our  version  of  the  Apocrypha.  The  morality  taught  is  very 
mundane.  Reputation  among  neighbours  is  highly  prized.  Honesty 
is  the  best  policy,  because  it  is  useful  to  have  Yahweh  on  your 
side.  Almsgiving  is  recommended.  The  only  sign  of  Greek  influence 
is  in  the  praise  of  medicine. 

Slaves  must  not  be  treated  too  kindly.  "Fodder,  a  wand,  and 
burdens,  are  for  the  ass:  and  bread,  correction,  and  work,  for  a 
servant.  ...  Set  him  to  work,  as  is  fit  for  him:  if  he  be  not 
obedient,  put  on  more  heavy  fetters"(xxiii,  24,  28).  At  the  same 
time,  remember  that  you  have  paid  a  price  for  him,  and  that  if 
he  runs  away  you  will  lose  your  money;  this  sets  a  limit  to  pro- 
fitable severity  (ibid.,  30,  31).  Daughters  are  a  great  source  of 
anxiety;  apparently  in  the  writer's  day  they  were  much  addicted  to 
immorality  (xlii,  9-11).  He  has  a  low  opinion  of  women:  "From 
garments  cometh  a  moth,  and  from  women  wickedness"  (ibid.,  13). 
It  is  a  mistake  to  be  cheerful  with  your  children ;  the  right  course 
is  to  "bow  down  their  neck  from  their  youth"  (vii.  23,  24). 

Altogether,  like  the  elder  Cato,  he  represents  the  morality  of 
the  virtuous  business  man  in  a  very  unattractive  li^ht. 

This  tranquil  existence  ot  comfortable  self-righteousness  was 
rudely  interrupted  by  the  Scleucid  king  Amiochus  IV,  who  was 
determined  to  hellenize  all  his  dominions.  In  175  B.C.  he  estab- 
lished a  gymnasium  in  Jerusalem,  and  taught  young  men  to  ucar 
Greek  hats  and  practise  athletics.  In  this  he  was  helped  by  a 
hellenizing  Jew  named  Jason,  whom  he  made  high  priest.  The 
priestly  aristocracy  had  become  lax,  and  had  felt  the  attraction 
of  Greek  civilization;  but  they  were  vehemently  opposed  by  a 
party  called  the  "Hasidim"  (meaning  "Holy"),  who  were  strong 
among  the  rural  population.1  When,  in  170  B.C.,  Antiochus 
became  Involved  in  war  with  ligypt,  the  Jews  rebelled.  Thereupon 
Antiochus  took  the  holy  vessels  from  the  Temple,  and  placed  in 
it  the  image  of  the  God.  He  identified  Yahweh  with  Zeus, 
following  a  practice  \\hich  had  been  successful  ever)' where  else.* 
He  resolved  to  extirpate  the  Jewish  religion,  and  to  stop  circum- 

1  From  them,  probably,  dc \eloped  the  sect  of  the  Kssenes,  whose 
doctrines  seem  to  have  influenced  primitive  Christianity.  Sec  Ocstcrlcy 
and  Robinson,  Ilutury  of  Israel,  Vol.  II,  p.  323  II.  The  Pharisee*  also 
descended  from  them. 

9  Some  Alexandrian  Jew*  did  not  object  to  this  identification.  See 
Letter  uf  Aris teas t  15,  16. 

334 


THE   RELIGIOUS   DEVELOPMENT   OF   THE  JEWS 

cision  and  the  observance  of  the  laws  relating  to  food.  To  all  this 
Jerusalem  submitted,  but  outside  Jerusalem  the  Jews  resisted 
with  the  utmost  stubbornness. 

The  history  of  this  period  is  told  in  the  First  Book  of  Maccabees. 
The  first  chapter  tells  how  Antiochus  decreed  that  all  the  in- 
habitants of  his  kingdom  should  be  one  people,  and  abandon  their 
separate  laws.  All  the  heathen  obeyed,  and  many  of  the  Israelites, 
although  the  king  commanded  that  they  should  profane  the 
sabbath,  sacrifice  swine's  flesh,  and  leave  their  children  uncir- 
cumcised.  All  who  disobeyed  were  to  suffer  death.  Many,  neverthe- 
less, resisted.  "They  put  to  death  certain  women,  that  had  caused 
their  children  to  be  circumcised.  And  they  hanged  the  infants 
about  their  necks,  and  rifled  their  houses,  and  slew  them  that  had 
circumcised  them.  Howbeit  many  in  Israel  were  fully  resolved 
and  confirmed  in  themselves  not  to  eat  any  unclean  thing.  Where- 
fore they  chose  rather  to  die,  that  they  might  not  be  defiled  with 
meats,  and  that  they  might  not  profane  the  holy  covenant:  so  then 
they  died."1 

It  was  at  this  time  that  the  doctrine  of  immortality  came  to  be 
widely  believed  among  the  Jews.  It  had  been  thought  that  virtue 
would  be  rewarded  here  on  earth;  but  persecution,  which  fell 
upon  the  most  virtuous,  made  it  evident  that  this  was  not  the  case. 
In  order  to  safeguard  divine  justice,  therefore,  it  was  necessary 
to  believe  in  rewards  and  punishments  hereafter.  This  doctrine 
was  not  universally  accepted  among  the  Jews;  in  the  time  of 
Christ,  the  Sadducees  still  rejected  it.  But  by  that  time  they 
were  a  small  party,  and  in  later  times  all  Jews  believed  in  immor- 
tality. 

The  revolt  against  Antiochus  was  led  by  Judas  Maccabaeus,  an 
able  military  commander,  who  first  recaptured  Jerusalem  (164  B.C.), 
and  then  embarked  upon  aggression.  Sometimes  he  killed  all  the 
males,  sometimes  he  circumcised  them  by  force.  His  brother 
Jonathan  was  made  high  priest,  was  allowed  to  occupy  Jerusalem 
with  a  garrison,  and  conquered  part  of  Samaria,  acquiring  Joppa 
and  Akra.  He  negotiated  with  Rome,  and  was  successful  in  securing 
complete  autonomy.  His  family  were  high  priests  until  Herod, 
and  are  known  as  the  I  lasmonean  dynasts. 

In  enduring  and  resisting  persecution  the  Jews  of  this  time 
showed  immense  heroism,  although  in  defence  of  things  that  do 
1  I  Maccabees  i,  60-3. 

335 


WESTERN   PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

The  New  Testament  writers  are  familiar  with  it;  St.  Jude  con- 
siders it  to  be  actually  by  Enoch.  Early  Christian  Fathers,  for 
instance  Clement  of  Alexandria  and  Tertullian,  treated  it  as 
canonical,  but  Jerome  and  Augustine  rejected  it.  It  fell,  conse- 
quently, into  oblivion,  and  was  lost  until,  early  in  the  nineteenth 
century,  three  manuscripts  of  it,  in  Ethiopic,  were  found  in 
Abyssinia.  Since  then,  manuscripts  of  parts  of  it  have  been  found 
in  Greek  and  Latin  versions.  It  appears  to  have  been  originally 
written  partly  in  Hebrew,  partly  in  Aramaic.  Its  authors  were 
members  of  the  Hasidim,  and  their  successors  the  Pharisees.  It 
denounces  kings  and  princes,  meaning  the  Hasmonean  dynasty 
and  the  Sadducees.  It  influenced  New  Testament  doctrine, 
particularly  as  regards  the  Messiah,  Sheol  (hell),  and  demonology. 

The  book  consists  mainly  of  "parables,"  which  are  more  cosmic 
than  those  of  the  New  Testament.  There  are  visions  of  heaven 
and  hell,  of  the  Last  Judgment,  and  so  on ;  one  is  reminded  of  the 
first  two  Books  of  Paradise  Lost  where  the  literary  quality  is  good, 
and  of  Blake's  Prophetic  Books  where  it  is  inferior. 

There  is  an  expansion  of  Genesis  vi,  2,  4,  which  is  curious  and 
Promethean.  The  angels  taught  men  metallurgy,  and  were  punished 
for  revealing  ''eternal  secrets."  They  were  also  cannibals.  The 
angels  that  had  sinned  became  pagan  gods,  and  their  women 
became  sirens ;  but  at  the  last,  they  were  punished  with  everlajtin^ 
torments. 

There  are  descriptions  of  heaven  and  hell  which  have  consider- 
able literary  merit.  The  Last  Judgipent  is  performed  by  "the  Son 
of  Man,  who  hath  righteousness"  and  who  sits  on  the  throne  of 
His  glory.  Some  of  the  gentiles,  at  the  last,  will  repent  and  be 
forgiven;  but  most  gentiles,  and  all  hellenizing  Jews,  will  suffer 
eternal  damnation,  for  the  righteous  will  pray  for  vengeance,  and 
their  prayer  will  be  granted. 

There  is  a  section  on  astronomy,  where  we  learn  that  the  sun 
and  moon  have  chariots  driven  by  the  wind,  that  the  year  consists 
of  364  days,  that  human  sin  causes  the  heavenly  bodies  to  depart 
from  their  courses,  and  that  only  the  virtuous  can  know  astronomy. 
Falling  stars  are  falling  angels,  and  are  punished  by  the  seven 
archangels. 

Next  comes  sacred  history.  Up  to  the  Maccabees,  this  pursues 
the  course  known  from  the  Bible  in  its  earlier  portions,  and  from 
history  in  the  later  parts.  Then  the  author  goes  on  into  the  future: 

338 


THE    RELIGIOUS    DEVELOPMENT    OF    THE   JEWS 

the  New  Jerusalem,  the  conversion  of  the  remnant  of  the  gentiles, 
the  resurrection  of  the  righteous,  and  the  Messiah. 

There  is  a  great  deal  about  the  punishment  of  sinners  and  the 
reward  of  the  righteous,  who  never  display  an  attitude  of  Christian 
forgiveness  towards  sinners.  "What  will  ye  do,  ye  sinners,  and 
whither  will  ye  flee  on  that  day  of  judgment,  when  ye  hear  the 
voice  of  the  prayer  of  the  righteous?"  "Sin  has  not  been  sent  upon 
the  earth,  but  man  of  himself  has  created  it."  Sins  are  recorded 
in  heaven.  "Ye  sinners  shall  be  cursed  for  ever,  and  ye  shall  have 
no  peace."  Sinners  may  be  happy  all  their  lives,  and  even  in 
dying,  but  their  souls  descend  into  Sheol,  where  they  shall  suffer 
"darkness  and  chains  and  a  burning  flame."  But  as  for  the 
righteous,  "I  and  my  Son  will  be  united  with  them  for  ever." 

The  last  words  of  the  book  are:  "To  the  faithful  he  will  give 
faithfulness  in  the  habitation  of  upright  paths.  And  they  shall  see 
those  who  were  born  in  darkness  led  into  darkness,  while  the 
righteous  shall  be  resplendent.  And  the  sinners  shall  cry  aloud 
and  see  them  resplendent,  and  they  indeed  will  go  where  days  and 
seasons  are  prescribed  for  them." 

Jews,  like  Christians,  thought  much  about  sin,  but  few  of  them 
thought  of  themselves  as  sinners.  This  was,  in  the  main,  a  Christian 
innovation,  introduced  by  the  parable  of  the  Pharisee  and  the 
publican,  and  taucht  as  a  virtue  in  Christ's  denunciations  of  the 
Scribes  and  Pharisees.  The  Christians  endeavoured  to  practise 
Christian  humility;  the  Jews,  in  general,  did  not. 

There  are,  however,  important  exceptions  among  orthodox  Jews 
just  before  the  lime  of  Christ.  Take,  for  instance,  "The  Testaments 
ill"  the  Twelve  Patriarchs/1  written  between  109  and  107  B.C.  by 
a  Pharisee  who  admired  John  Hyrcanus,  a  high  priest  of  the 
Ihusmonean  dynasty.  This  book,  in  the  form  in  which  we  have  it, 
contains  Christian  interpolations,  but  these  are  all  concerned  with 
dogma.  When  they  are  excised,  the  ethical  teaching  remains  closely 
similar  to  that  of  the  ( jnspels.  As  the  Rev.  Dr.  R.  H.  Charles  says: 
"The  Sermon  on  the  Mount  reflects  in  several  instances  the  spirit 
and  even  reproduces  the  very  phrases  of  our  text:  many  passages 
in  tlir  (iospcls  exhibit  traces  of  the  same,  and  St.  Paul  seems  to 
have  used  the  book  as  a  vade  mecuin"  (op.  «'/.,  pp.  291-2).  We 
lind  in  this  hook  such  preempts  as  the  following: 

"Love  ye  one  another  from  the  heart;  and  if  a  man  sin  against 
thec,  speak  peaceably  to  him,  and  in  thy  soul  hold  not  guile;  and 

339 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL    THOUGHT 

if  he  repent  and  confess,  forgive  him.  But  if  he  deny  it,  do  not 
get  into  a  passion  with  him,  lest  catching  the  poison  from  thee 
he  take  to  swearing,  and  so  then  sin  doubly.  .  .  .  And  if  he  be 
shameless  and  persist  in  wrong-doing,  even  so  forgive  him  from 
the  heart,  and  leave  to  God  the  avenging." 

Dr.  Charles  is  of  opinion  that  Christ  must  have  been  acquainted 
with  this  passage.  Again  we  find : 

"Love  the  Lord  and  your  neighbour." 

"Love  the  Lord  through  all  your  life,  and  one  another  with  a 
true  heart." 

"I  love  the  Lord;  likewise  also  every  man  with  all  my  heart." 
These  are  to  be  compared  with  Matthew  xxii,  37-39.  There  is  a 
reprobation  of  all  hatred  in  "The  Testaments  of  the  Twelve 
Patriarchs";  for  instance: 

"Anger  is  blindness,  and  docs  not  suffer  one  to  see  the  face  of 
any  man  with  truth." 

"Hatred,  therefore,  is  evil;  for  it  constantly  matcth  with  lying." 
The  author  of  this  book,  as  might  be  expected,  holds  that  not  only 
the  Jews,  but  all  the  gentiles,  will  be  saved. 

Christians  have  learnt  from  the  Gospels  to  think  ill  of  Pharisees, 
yet  the  author  of  this  book  was  a  Pharisee,  and  he  taught,  as  we 
have  seen,  those  very  ethical  maxims  which  we  think  of  as  most 
distinctive  of  Christ's  preaching.  The  explanation,  however,  is 
not  difficult.  In  the  first  place,  he  must  have  been,  even  in  his  own 
day,  an  exceptional  Pharisee;  the  more  usual  doctrine  was,  no 
doubt,  that  of  the  Book  of  Enoch.  In  the  second  place,  we  know 
that  all  movements  tend  to  ossify ;  who  could  infer  the  principles 
of  Jefferson  from  those  of  the  Daughters  of  the  American  Revo- 
lution? In  the  third  place,  we  know,  as  regards  the  Pharisees  in 
particular,  that  their  devotion  to  the  Law,  as  the  absolute  and 
final  truth,  soon  put  an  end  to  all  fresh  and  living  thought  and 
feeling  among  them.  As  Dr.  Charles  says: 

"When  Pharisaism,  breaking  with  the  ancient  ideals  of  its  party, 
committed  itself  to  political  interests  and  movements,  and  con- 
currently therewith  surrendered  itself  more  and  more  wholly  to 
the  study  of  the  letter  of  the  Law,  it  soon  ceased  to  offer  scope  for 
the  development  of  such  a  lofty  system  of  ethics  as  the  Testaments 
[of  the  Patriarchs]  attest,  and  so  the  true  successors  of  the  early 
Hasids  and  their  teaching  quitted  Judaism  and  found  their  natural 
home  in  the  bosom  of  primitive  Christianity." 

340 


THE   RELIGIOUS    DEVELOPMENT   OF   THE  JEWS 

After  a  period  of  rule  by  the  High  Priests,  Mark  Antony  made 
his  friend  Herod  King  of  the  Jews.  Herod  was  a  gay  adventurer, 
often  on  the  verge  of  bankruptcy,  accustomed  to  Roman  society, 
and  very  far  removed  from  Jewish  piety.  His  wife  was  of  the 
family  of  the  high  priests,  but  he  was  an  Idumaean,  which  alone 
would  suffice  to  make  him  an  object  of  suspicion  to  the  Jews.  He 
was  a  skilful  time-server,  and  deserted  Antony  promptly  when  it 
became  evident  that  Octavius  was  going  to  be  victorious.  However, 
he  made  strenuous  attempts  to  reconcile  the  Jews  to  his  rule.  He 
rebuilt  the  Temple,  though  in  a  hellenistic  style,  with  rows  of 
Corinthian  pillars;  but  he  placed  over  the  main  gate  a  large 
golden  eagle,  thereby  infringing  the  second  Commandment.  When 
it  was  rumoured  that  he  was  dying,  the  Pharisees  pulled  down  the 
eagle,  but  he,  in  revenge,  caused  a  number  of  them  to  be  put  to 
death.  He  died  in  4  B.C.,  and  soon  after  his  death  the  Romans 
abolished  the  kingship,  putting  Judea  under  a  procurator.  Pontius 
Pilate,  who  became  procurator  in  A.U.  26,  was  tactless,  and  was 
soon  retired. 

In  A.D.  66,  the  Jews,  led  by  the  party  of  the  Zealots,  rebelled 
against  Rome.  They  were  defeated,  and  Jerusalem  was  captured 
in  A.D.  70.  The  Temple  was  destroyed,  and  few  Jews  were  left  in 
Judea. 

The  Jews  of  the  Dispersion  had  become  important  centuries 
before  this  time.  The  Jews  had  been  originally  an  almost  wholly 
agricultural  people,  but  they  learnt  trading  from  the  Babylonians 
during  the  captivity.  Many  of  them  remained  in  Babylon  after  the 
time  of  lizra  and  Nehemiah,  and  among  these  some  were  very 
rich.  After  the  foundation  of  Alexandria,  great  numbers  of  Jews 
settled  in  that  city;  they  had  a  special  quarter  assigned  to  them, 
not  as  a  ghetto,  but  to  keep  them  from  danger  of  pollution  by 
contact  with  gentiles.  The  Alexandrian  Jews  became  much  more 
hellenized  than  those  of  Judea,  and  forgot  Hebrew.  For  this  reason 
it  became  necessary  to  translate  the  Old  Testament  into  Greek; 
the  result  was  the  Septuagint.  The  Pentateuch  was  translated  in 
the  middle  of  the  third  century  B.C.;  the  other  parts  somewhat 
later. 

Legends  arose  about  the  Septuagint,  so  called  because  it  was 
the  work  of  seventy  translators.  It  was  said  that  each  of  the 
seventy  translated  the  whole  independently,  and  that  when  the 
versions  were  compared  they  were  found  to  be  identical  down  to 


Chapter  II 

CHRISTIANITY    DURING   THE   FIRST    FOUR 

CENTURIES 

CHRISTIANITY,  at  first,  was  preached  by  Jews  to  Jews,  as 
a  reformed  Judaism.  St.  James,  and  to  a  lesser  extent  St. 
Peter,  wished  it  to  remain  no  more  than  this,  and  they 
might  have  prevailed  but  for  St.  Paul,  who  was  determined  to 
admit  gentiles  without  demanding  circumcision  or  submission  to 
the  Mosaic  Law.  The  contention  between  the  two  factions  is 
related  in  the  Acts  of  the  Apostles,  from  a  Pauline  point  of  view. 
The  communities  of  Christians  that  St.  Paul  established  in  many 
places,  were,  no  doubt,  composed  partly  of  converts  from  among 
the  Jews,  partly  of  gentiles  seeking  a  new  religion.  The  certainties 
of  Judaism  made  it  attractive  in  that  age  of  dissolving  faiths,  but 
circumcision  was  an  obstacle  to  the  conversion  of  men.  The  ritual 
laws  in  regard  to  food  were  also  inconvenient.  These  two  obstacles, 
even  if  there  had  been  no  others,  would  have  made  it  almost  im- 
possible for  the  Hebrew  religion  to  become  universal.  Christianity, 
owing  to  St.  Paul,  retained  what  was  attractive  in  the  doctrines  of 
the  Jews,  without  the  features  that  gentiles  found  hardest  to 
assimilate. 

The  view  that  the  Jews  were  the  Chosen  People  remained,  how- 
ever, obnoxious  to  Greek  pride.  This  view  was  radically  rejected 
by  the  Gnostics.  They,  or  at  least  some  of  them,  held  that  the 
sensible  world  had  been  created  by  an  inferior  deity  named 
laldabaoth,  the  rebellious  son  of  Sophia  (heavenly  wisdom).  He, 
they  said,  is  the  Yahweh  of  the  Old  Testament,  while  the  serpent, 
so  far  from  being  wicked,  was  engaged  in  warning  Eve  against 
his  deceptions.  For  a  long  time,  the  supreme  deity  allowed  lalda- 
baoth free  play;  at  last  lie  sent  His  Son  to  inhabit  temporarily 
the  body  of  the  man  Jesus,  and  to  liberate  the  world  from  the  false 
teaching  of  Moses.  Those  who  held  this  view,  or  something  like 
it,  combined  it,  as  a  rule,  with  a  Platonic  philosophy;  Plotinus, 
as  we  saw,  found  some  difficulty  in  refuting  it.  Gnosticism  afforded 
a  half-way  house  between  philosophic  paganism  and  Christianity, 
for,  while  it  honoured  Christ,  it  thought  ill  of  the  Jews.  The 
same  was  true,  later,  of  Manichaeism,  through  which  St.  Augustine 

344 


CHRISTIANITY      DURING      THE      FIRST      FOUR      CENTURIES 

came  to  the  Catholic  Faith.  Manichseism  combined  Christian  and 
Zoroastrian  elements,  teaching  that  evil  is  a  positive  principle, 
embodied  in  matter,  while  the  good  principle  is  embodied  in 
spirit.  It  condemned  meat-eating,  and  all  sex,  even  in  marriage. 
Such  intermediate  doctrines  helped  much  in  the  gradual  con- 
version of  cultivated  men  of  Greek  speech;  but  the  New  Testa- 
ment warns  true  believers  against  them:  "O  Timothy,  keep  that 
which  is  committed  to  thy  trust,  avoiding  profane  and  vain 
babblings,  and  oppositions  of  science  [Gnosis]  falsely  so  called: 
which  some  professing  have  erred  concerning  the  faith."1 

Gnostics  and  Manichaeans  continued  to  flourish  until  the  govern- 
ment became  Christian.  After  that  time  they  were  led  to  conceal 
their  beliefs,  but  they  still  had  a  subterranean  influence.  One  of  the 
doctrines  of  a  certain  sect  of  Gnostics  was  adopted  by  Mohammed. 
They  taught  that  Jesus  was  a  mere  man,  and  that  the  Son  of  God 
descended  upon  him  at  the  baptism,  and  abandoned  him  at  the 
time  of  the  Passion.  In  support  of  this  view  they  appealed  to 
the  text:  "My  God,  my  God,  why  hast  thou  forsaken  me?"2 — 
a  text  which,  it  must  be  confessed,  Christians  have  always  found 
difficult.  The  Gnostics  considered  it  unworthy  of  the  Son  of  God 
to  be  born,  to  be  an  infant,  and,  above  all,  to  die  on  the  cross; 
they  said  that  these  things  had  befallen  the  man  Jesus,  but  not 
the  divine  Son  of  God.  Mohammed,  who  recognized  Jesus  as  a 
prophet,  though  not  as  divine,  had  a  strong  class  feeling  that 
prophets  ought  not  to  come  to  a  bad  end.  He  therefore  adopted 
the  view  of  the  Docetics  (a  Gnostic  sect),  according  to  which  it 
was  a  mere  phantom  that  hung  upon  the  cross,  upon  which, 
impotently  and  ignorantly,  Jews  and  Romans  wreaked  their 
ineffectual  vengeance.  In  this  way,  something  of  Gnosticism 
passed  over  into  the  orthodox  doctrine  of  Islam. 

The  attitude  of  Christians  to  contemporary  Jews  early  became 
hostile.  The  received  view  was  that  God  had  spoken  to  the  patri- 
archs and  prophets,  who  were  holy  men,  and  had  foretold  the 
coming  of  Christ;  but  when  Christ  came,  the  Jews  failed  to 
recognize  Him,  and  were  thenceforth  to  be  accounted  wicked. 
Moreover  Christ  had  abrogated  the  Mosaic  Law,  substituting  the 
two  commandments  to  love  God  and  our  neighbour;  this,  also, 
the  Jews  perversely  failed  to  recognize.  As  soon  as  the  State 
became  Christian,  anti-Semitism,  in  its  medieval  form,  began, 

1  I  Timothy  vi,  ao,  ai.  '  Mark  xxv,  34. 

345 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

nominally  as  a  manifestation  of  Christian  zeal.  How  far  the 
economic  motives,  by  which  it  was  inflamed  in  later  times,  operated 
in  the  Christian  Empire,  it  seems  impossible  to  ascertain. 

In  proportion  as  Christianity  became  hellenized,  it  became  theo- 
logical. Jewish  theology  was  always  simple.  Yahweh  developed 
from  a  tribal  deity  into  the  sole  omnipotent  God  who  created 
heaven  and  earth ;  divine  justice,  when  it  was  seen  not  to  confer 
earthly  prosperity  upon  the  virtuous,  was  transferred  to  heaven, 
which  entailed  belief  in  immortality.  But  throughout  its  evolution 
the  Jewish  creed  involved  nothing  complicated  and  metaphysical ; 
it  had  no  mysteries,  and  every  Jew  could  understand  it. 

This  Jewish  simplicity,  on  the  whole,  still  characterizes  the 
synoptic  Gospels  (Matthew,  Mark,  and  Luke),  but  has  already 
disappeared  in  St.  John,  where  Christ  is  identified  with  the 
Platonic-Stoic  Logos.  It  is  less  Christ  the  Man  than  Christ 'the 
theological  figure  that  interests  the  fourth  evangelist.  This  is  still 
more  true  of  the  Fathers;  you  mil  find,  in  their  writings,  many 
more  allusions  to  St.  John  than  to  the  other  three  gospels  put 
together.  The  Pauline  epistles  also  contain  much  theology,  espe- 
cially as  regards  salvation;  at  the  same  time  they  show  a  con- 
siderable acquaintance  with  Greek  culture — a  quotation  from 
Menander,  an  allusion  to  Epimenides  the  Cretan  who  said  that 
all  Cretans  are  liars,  and  so  on.  Nevertheless  St.  Paul1  says: 
"Beware  lest  any  man  spoil  you  through  philosophy  and  vain 
deceit." 

The  synthesis  of  Greek  philosophy  and  Hebrew  scriptures 
remained  more  or  less  haphazard  and  fragmentary  until  the  time 
of  Origen  (A.D.  185-254).  Origen,  like  Philo,  lived  in  Alexandria, 
which,  owing  to  commerce  and  the  university,  was,  from  its 
foundation  to  its  fall,  the  chief  centre  of  learned  syncretism.  Like 
his  contemporary  Plotinus,  he  was  a  pupil  of  Ammonius  Saccas, 
whom  many  regard  as  the  founder  of  Neoplatonisrn.  His  doctrines, 
as  set  forth  in  his  work  De  Principtis,  have  much  affinity  to  those 
of  Plotinus — more,  in  fact,  than  is  compatible  with  orthodoxy. 

There  is,  Origen  says,  nothing  wholly  incorporeal  except  God — 
Father,  Son,  and  Holy  Ghost.  The  stars  are  living  rational  beings, 
to  whom  God  has  given  souls  that  were  already  in  existence.  The 
sun,  he  thinks,  can  sin.  The  souls  of  men,  as  Plato  taught,  come 
to  them  at  birth  from  elsewhere,  having  existed  ever  since  the 
1  Or  rather  the  author  of  an  Epistle  attributed  to  St.  Paul — Coiosaians  ii,8. 

346 


CHRISTIANITY      DURING      THE      FIRST      FOUR      CENTURIES 

Creation.  Nous  and  soul  are  distinguished  more  or  less  as  in 
Plotinus.  When  Nous  falls  away,  it  becomes  soul;  soul,  when 
virtuous,  becomes  Nous.  Ultimately  all  spirits  will  become  wholly 
submissive  to  Christ,  and  will  then  be  bodiless.  Even  the  devil 
will  be  saved  at  the  last. 

Origen,  in  spite  of  being  recognized  as  one  of  the  Fathers,  was, 
in  later  times,  condemned  as  having  maintained  four  heresies: 

1 .  The  pre-existence  of  souls,  as  taught  by  Plato. 

2.  That  the  human  nature  of  Christ,  and  not  only  His  divine 
nature,  existed  before  the  Incarnation. 

3.  That,  at  the  resurrection,  our  bodies  will  be  transformed 
into  absolutely  ethereal  bodies. 

4.  That  all  men,  and  even  devils,  shall  be  saved  at  the  last. 

St.  Jerome,  who  had  expressed  a  somewhat  unguarded  admira- 
tion of  Origen  for  his  work  in  establishing  the  text  of  the  Old 
Testament,  found  it  prudent,  subsequently,  to  expend  much  time 
and  vehemence  in  repudiating  his  theological  errors. 

Origen 's  aberrations  were  not  only  theological;  in  his  youth  he 
was  guilty  of  an  irreparable  error  through  a  too  literal  interpreta- 
tion of  the  text:  "There  be  eunuchs,  which  have  made  themselves 
eunuchs  for  the  kingdom  of  heaven's  sake."1  This  method  of 
escaping  the  temptations  of  the  flesh,  which  Origen  rashly  adopted, 
had  been  condemned  by  the  Church;  moreover  it  made  him 
ineligible  for  holy  orders,  although  some  ecclesiastics  seem  to  have 
thought  otherwise,  thereby  giving  rise  to  unedifying  controversies. 

Origen  *s  longest  work  is  a  book  entitled  Against  Celsus.  Celsus 
was  the  author  of  a  book  (now  lost)  against  Christianity,  and 
Origen  set  to  work  to  answer  him  point  by  point.  Celsus  begins 
by  objecting  to  Christians  because  they  belong  to  illegal  associa- 
tions; this  Origen  does  not  deny,  but  claims  to  be  a  virtue,  like 
tyrannicide.  He  then  comes  to  what  is  no  doubt  the  real  basis  for 
the  dislike  of  Christianity:  Christianity,  says  Celsus,  comes  from 
the  Jews,  who  are  barbarians;  and  only  Greeks  can  extract  sense 
out  of  the  teachings  of  barbarians.  Origen  replies  that  anyone 
coming  from  Greek  philosophy  to  the  Gospels  would  conclude 
that  they  arc  true,  and  supply  a  demonstration  satisfying  to  the 
Greek  intellect.  But,  further,  "The  Gospel  has  a  demonstration 
of  its  own,  more  divine  than  any  established  by  Grecian  dialectics. 
And  this  diviner  method  is  called  by  the  apostle  the  'manifestation 
1  Matthew  xix,  12. 

347 


WBSTERN   PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

of  the  Spirit  and  of  power';  of  'the  Spirit/  on  account  of  the 
prophecies,  which  are  sufficient  to  produce  faith  in  any  one  who 
reads  them,  especially  in  those  things  which  relate  to  Christ;  and 
of  'power/  because  of  the  signs  and  wonders  which  we  must 
believe  to  have  been  performed,  both  on  many  other  grounds,  and 
on  this,  that  traces  of  them  are  still  preserved  among  those  who 
regulate  their  lives  by  the  precepts  of  the  Gospel."1 

This  passage  is  interesting,  as  showing  already  the  twofold  argu- 
ment for  belief  which  is  characteristic  of  Christian  philosophy. 
On  the  one  hand,  pure  reason,  rightly  exercised,  suffices  to  establish 
the  essentials  of  the  Christian  faith,  more  especially  God,  im- 
mortality, and  free  will.  But  on  the  other  hand  the  Scriptures 
prove  not  only  these  bare  essentials,  but  much  more;  and  the 
divine  inspiration  of  the  Scriptures  is  proved  by  the  fact  that  the 
prophets  foretold  the  coming  of  the  Messiah,  by  the  miracles, 
and  by  the  beneficent  effects  of  belief  on  the  lives  of  the  faithful. 
Some  of  these  arguments  are  now  considered  out  of  date,  but  the 
last  of  them  was  still  employed  by  William  James.  All  of  them, 
until  the  Renaissance,  were  accepted  by  even1  Christian  philo- 
sopher. 

Some  of  Origen's  arguments  are  curious.  He  says  that  magicians 
invoke  the  "God  of  Abraham/'  often  without  knowing  who  Ik- 
is;  but  apparently  this  invocation  is  specially  potent.  Names  are 
essential  in  magic;  it  is  not  indifferent  whether  Coil  is  called  by 
His  Jewish,  Egyptian,   Babylonian,  Greek,  or  Brahman  name. 
Magic  formulae  lose  their  efficacy-  when  translated.  (>nc  is  led  to 
suppose  that  the  magicians  of  the  time  used  formulae  from  all 
known  religions,  but  if  Origen  is  right,  those  derived  from  Hebrew 
sources  were  the  most  effective.  The  argument  is  the  more  curious 
as  he  points  out  that  Moses  forbade  sorcery.2 

Christians,  we  are  told,  should  not  take  part  in  the  government 
of  the  State,  but  only  of  the  "divine  nation, "  i.e.,  the  Church.3 
This  doctrine,  of  course,  was  somewhat  modified  after  the  time 
of  Constantine,  but  something  of  it  survived.  It  is  implicit  in  St. 
Augustine's  City  of  God.  It  led  churchmen,  at  the  time  of  the 
fall  of  the  Western  Empire,  to  look  on  passively  at  secular  disasters, 
while  they  exercised  their  very  great  talents  in  Church  discipline, 

1  Origen,  Contra  Celsum,  Book  I,  chap.  ti. 
1  Ibid.,  Book  I,  chap.  xxvi. 
.,  Book  VIII,  chap.  bcxv 

348 


CHRISTIANITY      DURING      THE      FIRST      FOUR      CENTURIES 

theological  controversy,  and  the  spread  of  monasticism.  Some 
trace  of  it  still  exists:  most  people  regard  politics  as  "worldly" 
and  unworthy  of  any  really  holy  man. 

Church  government  developed  slowly  during  the  first  three 
centuries,  and  rapidly  after  the  conversion  of  Constantino.  Bishops 
were  popularly  elected;  gradually  they  acquired  considerable 
power  over  Christians  in  their  own  dioceses,  but  before  Con- 
stant ine  there  was  hardly  any  form  of  central  government  over 
the  whole  Church.  The  power  of  bishops  in  great  cities  was 
enhanced  by  the  practice  of  almsgiving:  the  offerings  of  the 
faithful  were  administered  by  the  bishop,  who  could  give  or  with- 
hold charity  to  the  poor.  There  came  thus  to  be  a  mob  of  the 
destitute,  ready  to  do  the  bishop's  will.  When  the  State  became 
Christian,  the  bishops  were  given  judicial  and  administrative 
functions.  There  came  also  to  be  a  central  government,  at  least 
in  matters  of  doctrine.  Constantine  was  annoyed  by  the  quarrel 
between  Catholics  and  Arians;  having  thrown  in  his  lot  with  the 
Christians  he  wanted  them  to  be  a  united  part)'.  For  the  purpose 
of  healing  dissensions,  he  caused  the  convening  of  the  oecumenical 
Council  of  Nicara,  which  drew  up  the  Xicene  Creed,1  and,  so 
far  as  the  Arian  controversy  was  concerned,  determined  for  all 
lime  the  standard  of  orthodoxy.  Other  later  controversies  were 
similarly  decided  by  oecummical  councils,  until  the  division 
between  Kast  and  West  and  the  Kastern  refusal  to  admit  the 
authority  of  the  POJX*  made  them  impossible. 

The  i'ope,  though  officially  the  most  important  individual  in 
ihc  Church,  had  no  authority  over  the  Church  as  a  whole  until  a 
much  later  period.  The  gradual  growth  of  the  papal  power  is  a 
very  interesting  subject,  which  I  shall  deal  with  in  later  chapters. 

The  growth  of  Christianity  before  Constantine,  as  well  as  the 
motives  of  his  conversion,  has  been  variously  explained  by  various 
authors.  Gibbon*  assigns  live  causes: 

"I.  The  inflexible,  and,  if  we  may  use  the  expression,  the 
intolerant  zeal  of  the  Christians,  derived,  it  is  true,  from  the 
Jewish  religion,  but  purified  from  the  narrow  and  unsocial  spirit 
which,  instead  of  inviting,  had  deterred  the  Gentiles  from  em- 
bracing the  law  of  Moses. 

"II.  The  doctrine  of  a  future  life,  improved  by  every  additional 
1  Not  exactly  in  its  present  form,  which  was  decided  upon  in  362. 
1  The  Decline  and  Full  <>/  the  Ruman  Empire,  chap.  xv. 

349 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL    THOUGHT 

circumstance  which  could  give  weight  and  efficacy  to  that  im- 
portant truth. 

"III.  The  miraculous  powers  ascribed  to  the  primitive  Church. 

"IV.  The  pure  and  austere  morals  of  the  Christians. 

"V.  The  union  and  discipline  of  the  Christian  republic,  which 
gradually  formed  an  independent  and  increasing  State  in  the 
heart  of  the  Roman  empire." 

Broadly  speaking,  this  analysis  may  be  accepted,  but  with  some 
comments.  The  first  cause — the  inflexibility  and  intolerance 
derived  from  the  Jews — may  be  wholly  accepted.  We  have  seen 
in  our  own  day  the  advantages  of  intolerance  in  propaganda.  The 
Christians,  for  the  most  part,  believed  that  they  alone  would  go 
to  heaven,  and  that  the  most  awful  punishments  would,  in  the 
next  world,  fall  upon  the  heathen.  The  other  religions  which 
competed  for  favour  during  the  third  century  had  not  this  threa- 
tening character.  The  worshippers  of  the  Great  Mother,  for 
example,  while  they  had  a  ceremony — the  Taurobolium — which 
was  analogous  to  baptism,  did  not  teach  that  those  who  omitted 
it  would  go  to  hell.  It  may  be  remarked,  incidentally,  that  the 
Taurobolium  was  expensive:  a  bull  had  to  be  killed,  and  its  blood 
allowed  to  trickle  over  the  convert.  A  rite  of  this  sort  is  aristocratic, 
and  cannot  be  the  basis  of  a  religion  which  is  to  embrace  the 
great  bulk  of  the  population,  rich  and  poor,  free  and  slave.  In 
such  respects,  Christianity  had  an  advantage  over  all  its  rivals. 

As  regards  the  doctrine  of  a  future  life,  in  the  West  it  was  first 
taught  by  the  Orphics  and  thence  adopted  by  Greek  philosophers. 
The  Hebrew  prophets,  some  of  them,  taught  the  resurrection  of 
the  body,  but  it  seems  to  have  been  from  the  Greeks  that  the  Jews 
learnt  to  believe  in  the  resurrection  of  the  spirit.1  The  doctrine  of 
immortality,  in  Greece,  had  a  popular  form  in  Orphism  and  a 
learned  form  in  Platonism.  The  latter,  being  based  upon  difficult 
arguments,  could  not  become  widely  popular;  the  Orphic  form, 
however,  probably  had  a  great  influence  on  the  general  opinions 
of  later  antiquity,  not  only  among  pagans,  but  also  among  Jews 
and  Christians.  Elements  of  mystery  religions,  both  Orphic  and 
Asiatic,  enter  largely  into  Christian  theology;  in  all  of  them,  the 
central  myth  is  that  of  the  dying  god  who  rises  again.2  i  think, 

1  See  Oesterley  and  Robinson,  I  i  threw  Religion. 
1  See  Angus,  The  Mystery  Religions  and  Christianity 

35° 


CHRISTIANITY      DURING      THE      FIRST      FOUR      CENTURIES 

therefore,  that  the  doctrine  of  immortality  must  have  had  less 
to  do  with  the  spread  of  Christianity  than  Gibbon  thought. 

Miracles  certainly  played  a  very  large  part  in  Christian  propa- 
ganda. But  miracles,  in  later  antiquity,  were  very  common,  and 
were  not  the  prerogative  of  any  one  religion.  It  is  not  altogether 
easy  to  see  why,  in  this  competition,  the  Christian  miracles  came 
to  be  more  widely  believed  than  those  of  other  sects.  I  think 
Gibbon  omits  one  very  important  matter,  namely  the  possession 
of  a  Sacred  Book.  The  miracles  to  which  Christians  appealed  had 
begun  in  a  remote  antiquity,  among  a  nation  which  the  ancients 
felt  to  be  mysterious;  there  was  a  consistent  history,  from  the 
Creation  onwards,  according  to  which  Providence  had  always 
worked  wonders,  first  for  the  Jews,  then  for  the  Christians.  To  a 
modern  historical  student  it  is  obvious  that  the  early  history  of 
the  Israelites  is  in  the  main  legendary,  but  not  so  to  the  ancients. 
They  believed  in  the  Homeric  account  of  the  siege  of  Troy,  in 
Romulus  and  Remus,  and  so  on;  why,  asks  Origen,  should  you 
accept  these  traditions  and  reject  those  of  the  Jews?  To  this 
argument  there  was  no  logical  answer.  It  was  therefore  natural 
to  accept  Old  Testament  miracles,  and,  when  they  had  been 
admitted,  those  of  more  recent  date  became  credible,  especially 
in  view  of  the  Christian  interpretation  of  the  prophets. 

The  morals  of  the  Christians,  before  Constantine,  were  un- 
doubtedly very  superior  to  those  of  average  pagans.  The  Christians 
were  persecuted  at  times,  and  were  almost  always  at  a  disadvantage 
in  competition  with  pagans.  They  believed  firmly  that  virtue 
would  be  rewarded  in  heaven  and  sin  punished  in  hell.  Their  sexual 
ethics  had  a  strictness  that  was  rare  in  antiquity.  Pliny,  whose 
official  duty  it  was  to  persecute  them,  testifies  to  their  high  moral 
character.  After  the  conversion  of  Constantine,therewere,  of  course, 
time-servers  among  Christians;  but  prominent  ecclesiastics,  with 
some  exceptions,  continued  to  be  men  of  inflexible  moral  principles. 
I  think  Gibbon  is  right  in  attributing  great  importance  to  this 
high  moral  level  as  one  of  the  causes  of  the  spread  of  Christianity. 

Gibbon  puts  last  "the  union  and  discipline  of  the  Christian 
republic."  I  think  that,  from  a  political  point  of  view,  this  was  the 
most  important  of  his  five  causes.  In  the  modern  world,  we  are 
accustomed  to  political  organization;  every  politician  has  to  reckon 
with  the  Catholic  vote,  but  it  is  balanced  by  the  vote  of  other  or- 
ganized groups.  A  Catholic  candidate  for  the  American  Presidency 

35' 


WESTERN    PHILOSOPHICAL   THOUGHT 

is  at  a  disadvantage,  because  of  Protestant  prejudice.  But,  if  there 
were  no  such  thing  as  Protestant  prejudice,  a  Catholic  candidate 
would  stand  a  better  chance  than  any  other.  This  seems  to  have 
been  Constantino's  calculation.  The  support  of  the  Christians,  as 
a  single  organized  bloc,  was  to  be  obtained  by  favouring  them. 
Whatever  dislike  of  the  Christians  existed  was  unorganized  and 
politically  ineffective.  Probably  Rostovtseff  is  right  in  holding 
that  a  large  part  of  the  army  was  Christian,  and  that  this  was 
what  most  influenced  Constantino.  However  that  may  be,  the 
Christians,  while  still  a  minority,  had  a  kind  of  organization  which 
was  then  new,  though  now  common,  and  which  gave  them  all 
the  political  influence  of  a  pressure  group  to  which  no  other 
pressure  groups  are  opposed.  This  was  the  natural  consequence 
of  their  virtual  monopoly  of  zeal,  and  their  zeal  was  an  inheritance 
from  the  Jews. 

Unfortunately,  as  soon  as  the  Christians  acquired  political 
power,  they  turned  their  zeal  against  each  other.  There  had  been 
heresies,  not  a  few,  before  Constantine,  but  the  orthodox  had 
had  no  means  of  punishing  them.  When  the  State  became  Chris- 
tian, great  prizes,  in  the  shape  of  power  and  wealth,  became  open 
to  ecclesiastics;  there  were  disputed  elections,  and  theological 
quarrels  were  also  quarrels  for  worldly  advantages.  Constantine 
himself  preserved  a  certain  degree  of  neutrality  in  the  disputes  of 
theologians,  but  after  his  death  (337)  his  successors  (except  for 
Julian  the  Apostate)  were,  in  a  greater  or  less  degree,  favourable 
to  the  Arians,  until  the  accession  of  Theodosius  in  379. 

The  hero  of  this  period  is  Athanasius  (ca.  297-373),  who  was 
throughout  his  long  life  the  most  intrepid  champion  of  Nicene 
orthodoxy. 

The  period  from  Constantine  to  the  Council  of  Chalceclon  (451) 
is  peculiar  owing  to  the  political  importance  of  theology.  Two 
questions  successively  agitated  the  Christian  world:  first,  the 
nature  of  the  Trinity,  and  then  the  doctrine  of  the  Incarnation. 
Only  the  first  of  these  was  to  the  fore  in  the  time  of  Athanasius. 
Anus,  a  cultivated  Alexandrian  priest,  maintained  that  the  Son 
is  not  the  equal  of  the  Father,  but  created  by  Him.  At  an  earlier 
period,  this  view  might  not  have  aroused  much  antagonism,  but 
in  the  fourth  century  most  theologians  rejected  it.  The  view  which 
finally  prevailed  was  that  the  Father  and  the  Son  were  equal,  and 
of  the  same  substance;  they  were,  however,  distinct  Persons.  The 

352 


CHRISTIANITY      DURING      THE      FIRST      FOUR      CENTURIES 

view  that  they  were  not  distinct,  but  only  different  aspects  of  one 
Being,  was  the  Sabellian  heresy,  called  after  its  founder  Sabellius. 
Orthodoxy  thus  had  to  tread  a  narrow  line:  those  who  unduly 
emphasized  the  distinctness  of  the  Father  and  the  Son  were  in 
danger  of  Arianism,  and  those  who  unduly  emphasized  their 
oneness  were  in  danger  of  Sabellianism. 

The  doctrines  of  Arius  were  condemned  by  the  Council  of 
Nicaea  (325)  by  an  overwhelming  majority.  But  various  modifica- 
tions were  suggested  by  various  theologians,  and  favoured  by 
Emperors.  Athanasius,  who  was  Bishop  of  Alexandria  from  328 
till  his  death,  was  constantly  in  exile  because  of  his  zeal  for  Nicene 
orthodoxy.  He  had  immense  popularity  in  Egypt,  which,  through- 
out the  controversy,  followed  him  unwaveringly.  It  is  curious  that, 
in  the  course  of  theological  controversy,  national  (or  at  least 
regional)  feeling,  which  had  seemed  extinct  since  the  Roman 
conquest,  revived.  Constantinople  and  Asia  inclined  to  Arianism; 
Egypt  was  fanatically  Athanasian;  the  West  steadfastly  adhered 
to  the  decrees  of  the  Council  of  Nicaea.  After  the  Arian  controversy 
was  ended,  new  controversies,  of  a  more  or  less  kindred  sort, 
arose,  in  which  Egypt  became  heretical  in  one  direction  and  Syria 
in  another.  These  heresies,  which  were  persecuted  by  the  orthodox, 
impaired  the  unity  of  the  Eastern  Empire,  and  facilitated  the 
Mohammedan  conquest.  The  separatist  movements,  in  themselves, 
are  not  surprising,  but  it  is  curious  that  they  should  have  been 
associated  with  vefy  subtle  and  abstruse  theological  questions. 

The  Emperors,  from  335  to  378,  favoured  more  or  less  Arian 
opinions  as  far  as  they  dared,  except  for  Julian  the  Apostate 
(361-363),  who,  as  a  pagan,  was  neutral  as  regards  the  internal 
disputes  of  the  Christians.  At  last,  in  379,  the  Emperor  Theodosius 
gave  his  full  support  to  the  Catholics,  and  their  victory  throughout 
the  Empire  was  complete.  St.  Ambrose,  St.  Jerome,  and  St. 
Augustine,  whom  we  shall  consider  in  the  next  chapter,  lived  most 
of  their  lives  during  this  period  of  Catholic  triumph.  It  was 
succeeded,  however,  in  the  West,  by  another  Arian  domination, 
that  of  the  Goths  and  Vandals,  who,  between  them,  conquered 
most  of  the  Western  Empire.  Their  power  lasted  for  about  a 
century,  at  the  end  of  which  it  was  destroyed  by  Justinian,  the 
Lombards,  and  the  Franks,  of  whom  Justinian  and  the  Franks, 
and  ultimately  the  Lombards  also,  were  orthodox.  Thus  at  last 
the  Catholic  faith  achieved  definitive  success. 

353  M 


Chapter  III 
THREE    DOCTORS    OF    THE    CHURCH 

FOUR  men  are  called  the  Doctors  of  the  Western  Church: 
St.  Ambrose,  St.  Jerome,  St.  Augustine,  and  Pope  Gregory 
the  Great.  Of  these  the  first  three  were  contemporaries, 
while  the  fourth  belonged  to  a  later  date.  I  shall,  in  this  chapter, 
give  some  account  of  the  life  and  times  of  the  first  three,  reserving 
for  a  later  chapter  an  account  of  the  doctrines  of  St.  Augustine, 
who  is,  for  us,  the  most  important  of  the  three. 

Ambrose,  Jerome,  and  Augustine  all  flourished  during  the  brief 
period  between  the  victory  of  the  Catholic  Church  in  the  Roman 
Empire  and  the  barbarian  invasion.  All  three  were  young  during 
the  reign  of  Julian  the  Apostate ;  Jerome  lived  ten  years  after  the 
sack  of  Rome  by  the  Goths  under  Alaric ;  Augustine  lived  till  the 
irruption  of  the  Vandals  into  Africa,  and  died  while  they  were 
besieging  Hippo,  of  which  he  was  bishop.  Immediately  after  their 
time,  the  masters  of  Italy,  Spain,  and  Africa  were  not  only  bar- 
barians, but  Arian  heretics.  Civilization  declined  for  centuries, 
and  it  was  not  until  nearly  a  thousand  years  later  that  Christendom 
again  produced  men  who  were  their  equals  in  learning  and  culture. 
Throughout  the  dark  ages  and  the  medieval  period,  their  authority 
was  revered;  they,  more  than  any  other  men,  fixed  the  mould 
into  which  the  Church  was  shaped.  Speaking  broadly,  St.  Ambrose 
determined  the  ecclesiastical  conception  of  the  relation  of  Church 
and  State;  St.  Jerome  gave  the  Western  Church  its  Latin  Bible 
and  a  great  part  of  the  impetus  to  monasticism ;  while  St.  Augustine 
fixed  the  theology  of  the  Church  until  the  Reformation,  and,  later, 
a  great  part  of  the  doctrines  of  Luther  and  Calvin.  Few  men  have 
surpassed  these  three  in  influence  on  the  course  of  history.  The 
independence  of  the  Church  in  relation  to  the  secular  State,  as 
successfully  maintained  by  St.  Ambrose,  was  a  new  and  revolu- 
tionary doctrine,  which  prevailed  until  the  Reformation;  when 
Hobbes  combated  it  in  the  seventeenth  century,  it  was  against 
St.  Ambrose  that  he  chiefly  argued.  St.  Augustine  was  in  the  fore- 
front of  theological  controversy  during  the  sixteenth  and  seven- 
teenth centuries,  Protestants  and  Jansenists  being  for  him,  and 
orthodox  Catholics  against  him. 

354 


THREE  DOCTORS  OF  THE  CHURCH 

The  capital  of  the  Western  Empire,  at  the  end  of  the  fourth 
century,  was  Milan,  of  which  Ambrose  was  bishop.  His  duties 
brought  him  constantly  into  relations  with  the  emperors,  to  whom 
he  spoke  habitually  as  an  equal,  sometimes  as  a  superior.  His 
dealings  with  the  imperial  court  illustrate  a  general  contrast 
characteristic  of  the  times:  while  the  State  was  feeble,  incompetent, 
governed  by  unprincipled  self-seekers,  and  totally  without  any* 
policy  beyond  that  of  momentary  expedients,  the  Church  was 
vigorous,  able,  guided  by  men  prepared  to  sacrifice  everything 
personal  in  its  interests,  and  with  a  policy  so  far-sighted  that 
it  brought  victory  for  the  next  thousand  years.  It  is  true  that 
these  merits  were  offset  by  fanaticism  and  superstition,  but 
without  these  no  reforming  movement  could,  at  that  time,  have 
succeeded. 

St.  Ambrose  had  every  opportunity  to  seek  success  in  the  service 
of  the  State.  His  father,  also  named  Ambrose,  was  a  high  official 
—prefect  of  the  Gauls.  The  Saint  was  born,  probably,  at  Treves, 
a  frontier  garrison  town,  where  the  Roman  legions  were  stationed 
to  keep  the  Germans  at  bay.  At  the  age  of  thirteen  he  was  taken 
to  Rome,  where  he  had  a  good  education,  including  a  thorough 
grounding  in  Greek.  When  he  grew  up  he  took  to  the  law,  in 
which  he  was  very  successful;  and  at  the  age  of  thirty  he  was 
made  governor  of  Liguria  and  ^Emilia.  Nevertheless,  four  years 
later  he  turned  his  back  on  secular  government,  and  by  popular 
acclaim  became  bishop  of  Milan,  in  opposition  to  an  Arian  candi- 
date. He  gave  all  his  worldly  goods  to  the  poor,  and  devoted  the 
whole  of  the  rest  of  his  life  to  the  service  of  the  Church,  sometimes 
at  great  personal  risk.  This  choice  was  certainly  not  dictated  by 
worldly  motives,  but,  if  it  had  been,  it  would  have  been  wise.  In 
the  State,  even  if  he  had  become  Emperor,  he  could  at  that  time 
have  found  no  such  scope  for  his  administrative  statesmanship  as 
he  found  in  the  discharge  of  his  episcopal  duties. 

During  the  first  nine  years  of  Ambrose's  episcopate,  the 
Emperor  of  the  West  was  Gratian,  who  was  Catholic,  virtuous, 
and  careless.  He  was  so  devoted  to  the  chase  that  he  neglected 
the  government,  and  in  the  end  was  assassinated.  He  was  suc- 
ceeded, throughout  most  of  the  Western  Empire,  by  a  usurper 
named  Maximus;  but  in  Italy  the  succession  passed  to  Gratian 's 
younger  brother  Valentinian  II,  who  was  still  a  boy.  At  first,  the 
imperial  power  was  exercised  by  his  mother,  Justina,  widow  of 

355 


WESTERN   PHILOSOPHICAL    THOUGHT 

the  Emperor  Valentinian  I;  but  as  she  was  an  Arian,  conflicts 
between  her  and  St.  Ambrose  were  inevitable. 

All  the  three  Saints  with  whom  we  are  concerned  in  this  chapter 
wrote  innumerable  letters,  of  which  many  are  preserved ;  the  con- 
sequence is  that  we  know  more  about  them  than  about  any  of 
the  pagan  philosophers,  and  more  than  about  all  but  a  few  of  the 
•  ecclesiastics  of  the  Middle  Ages.  St.  Augustine  wrote  letters  to 
all  and  sundry,  mostly  on  doctrine  or  Church  discipline;  St. 
Jerome's  letters  are  mainly  addressed  to  ladies,  giving  advice  on 
how  to  preserve  virginity ;  but  St.  Ambrose's  most  important  and 
interesting  letters  are  to  Emperors,  telling  them  in  what  respects 
they  have  fallen  short  of  their  duty,  or,  on  occasion,  congratulating 
them  on  having  performed  it. 

The  first  public  question  with  which  Ambrose  had  to  deal  was 
that  of  the  altar  and  statue  of  Victory  in  Rome.  Pa